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Can Technology Help Commercial Drivers Avoid Accidents with Distracted Car Drivers?

Distracted driving is arguably one of the most common causes of road crashes. Numerous studies have been conducted on distracted driving-related to commercial vehicles. The sad fact is that distracted driving is on the increase, and with that comes the increase in accidents and fatalities.

But let’s not forget that commercial drivers cannot be held accountable for 100% of the distracted driving accidents involving trucks. Distracted passenger car drivers are responsible for a large number of accidents involving commercial vehicles. In fact, passenger car drivers are at fault in 80% of the car vs. truck accidents.

What is Currently Being Done to Address Distracted Driving?

For both commercial and passenger car drivers, there are different technology, legislative, and awareness campaigns that have been implemented.

Do Not Disturb While Driving

Aside from seeing it on the road every day, we read about distracted driving and strict laws in the news. The problem is happening everywhere every day. Some companies (like Aviva Canada) are trying to create awareness and promote the ‘do not disturb while driving’ feature on most phones.

Harsh Punishments

A distracted truck driver in Minnesota received a 1-year sentence for his role in a distracted driving death.  More states are jumping on this bandwagon (such as Pennsylvania and Oregon) and allow for jail time for texting and driving. 

Take the Pledge

Many companies and families are taking the pledge in the fight against distracted driving: don’t text and drive; encourage others to do the same; speak up if the driver in your car is distracted.

Distracted Driving Campaigns

KSAL in Kansas reports that AAA is pumping up distracted driving campaigns by strategically posting signs at gas stations in the hopes of getting people’s attention. They are comparing texting and driving with drinking and driving.

AAA has some hard-core statistics they point out:

  • 9 people each day are killed in the U.S. and 1,000 are injured in crashes where distracted driving occurred, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Nearly 97% of motorists believe mobile device use while driving is extremely or very dangerous behavior. About the same number of motorists view driving while intoxicated to be extremely or very dangerous.
  • And yet, more than 40% of the same respondents admit they had read texts or emails on their phone at least once in the past 30 days.

While these initiatives are steps in the right direction, the fact is almost half of all drivers are aware of the dangers of distracted driving but continue to text and drive.

How do we rectify this situation? Can technology help commercial drivers avoid accidents with personal auto drivers that are distracted?

How Can Technology Address Distracted Driving?

Over the past 10 years or so, technology has been introduced to both commercial and personal vehicles and continues to evolve due to advances in technology and reduced costs.

Attention Monitoring Systems

Attention monitoring systems are receiving much attention lately. A few new higher-end model cars are being outfitted with driver monitoring systems, but most vehicles do not have them. Without these monitoring systems, what’s the solution?

Some states are resorting to using big rig trucks to catch distracted drivers. This offers them a good view of the cars below to see if the drivers are playing with their phones.

In response to numerous studies, public safety organizations have put in place programs to draw attention to the risks associated with distracted driving along with recommendations of measures for commercial vehicle carriers to minimize risks and crashes. For example, Operation Safe Driver, which is conducted by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, aims at increasing awareness and education as well as changing driver behavior.

Driver Distraction Technology

Vehicle manufacturers have been offering crash avoidance technology such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, side collision warning, and collision mitigation braking assist for many years. They are now starting to introduce driver distraction detection in passenger cars with systems based on lane departure detection, steering movements, or eye tracking, with audible, visual within the instrument cluster of the vehicle or haptic feedback to the driver from the steering wheel.

In the commercial vehicle space, crash avoidance technology is optional, and carriers are increasingly adopting them when purchasing new vehicles. Driver distraction systems are not yet available from the manufacturers, but retrofit aftermarket solutions have been available and new ones are emerging.

Crash avoidance technology would warn a truck driver when a vehicle changes lanes abruptly, or pulls out in front of the truck, thereby causing the truck driver to react quickly.

Retrofit Camera Solutions

The first generation of retrofit camera solutions records events with associated video and then coaches the driver after the fact to educate the driver about dangerous situations (note the operative term ‘after the fact’).

Although this solution doesn’t help at the time of the incident, it does assist law enforcement in determining whether the personal vehicle or truck is at fault.

Artificial Intelligence-based Systems

With all of the technology that is available in new passenger vehicles, unfortunately, the statistics reveal that the majority of passenger auto drivers are still distracted drivers.

So how can the commercial driver protect against distracted passenger auto drivers? Artificial intelligence-based systems may be the answer.

Next-generation systems exist today that utilizes AI technology to monitor the road ahead. The technology used in these systems has evolved to the point where they act as a second set of eyes to assist the driver that consists of assessing and evaluating risks such as:

  • Traffic
  • Speed
  • Driving dynamics
  • Weather conditions
  • Road dangers – such as vehicles, objects, pedestrians

All of these help detect potential collision risks in real-time.

The system provides real-time warning and coaching to the driver whenever a risky situation such as these occur. There would be less chance of an accident if the driver were alerted as soon as possible, giving them time to react.

These systems can help the commercial driver become aware of a road danger involving a passenger auto vehicle. For example, a common practice for drivers is to stop on the side of the road to use their cell phones. Many times, passenger car drivers will decide to pull-over or even park in a dangerous place. Many accidents involving 18-wheelers are caused by vehicles that are stopped in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another example is a vehicle that is drifting between lanes or moving erratically. Chances are the driver of that vehicle is distracted for whatever reason and has created a risky situation.

Conclusion

Despite harsh punishments for using a smartphone while driving, we are still addicted to our smartphones which are taking over our attention like overlords continually demanding our time. Remember the term ‘CrackBerry’ we affectionately called our BlackBerry phones? This is not a new addiction, only a worsening one.

Too often, truck drivers are blamed for accidents involving distracted vehicle drivers. Crash avoidance technology can alert a truck driver of a dangerous incident. If the truck driver can’t avoid it and is involved in a crash, the technology can assist in determining who is at fault.

One would think that the logical side of our brain would deter us from the lures of distracted driving, but it’s not. We need a co-driver to help us combat those times when the cell phone is calling, or the text messages are coming. We need to be reminded to keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the steering wheel. Where are you Walter?

Interested to learn how your drivers can be coached in real-time? Click below to learn more about “Walter,” our virtual co-driver that provides coaching in real-time to improve your safety record and lower costs.

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Alex Capelle
Alex Capelle
Alex Capelle has over 15 years of experience in the automotive industry with an expertise in connected vehicles, telematics and SaaS. He has held various roles such as Head of Products, Program Manager, Senior Product Manager and Project Manager at Continental, Siemens VDO, VINCI and Trillium Secure.  He has led projects, products and business development in France, Spain, Germany, Asia, South America and North America.

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