Do not disturb - the risks and safety considerations of driver distraction
Posted on: 02 March 2017
As advances in technology accelerate by the minute, so do the numerous forms of driver distraction. Our lives are busier than ever and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to focus on any one thing. Multi-tasking is rife – even when driving.
With 78% of crashes involving the person behind the wheel being preoccupied with other activities (Allianz Centre for Technology, AZT), distraction levels are at a staggering high. Clearly, it’s a problem that needs addressing; without the necessary steps to manage this risk, individuals and organisations alike could find themselves facing some serious consequences.
Driver distraction: the costly consequences
While there is currently no law attributed to ‘distracted driving’ specifically, the related offence of ‘dangerous driving’ encompasses many avoidable distractions, for instance using a mobile phone or adjusting the controls on your radio or sat nav. If caught, an individual can face hefty fines, driving bans, penalty points and, in some cases, even imprisonment.
The impact for businesses is no less significant. In fact, company drivers are 40-50% more likely to have a collision than the average driver. Additionally, between 500 and 1,000 people die annually in collisions involving vehicles being driven for work purposes. If an employee is charged as a result of distracted driving, the consequences for the business can be serious. In addition to reputational damage, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Vehicle and Operator Safety Agency (VOSPA) may investigate whether an employer can be held accountable for the collision, which could have serious ramifications – such as a charge for corporate manslaughter.
Business Interruption is another painful consequence and can result even from minor collisions. Reduced staff levels and vehicles in repair can impact a company’s efficiency and ability to deliver services. Furthermore, a higher frequency of claims can lead to unforeseen payments in the form of excesses and a detrimental effect on insurance premiums.
Reducing distraction behind the wheel
There are numerous measures that can be implemented to reduce distraction behind the wheel. These include:
- Plan your journey – with a better idea of your route and surroundings, you’ll rely less on your sat nav and/or maps, both of which can be distracting
- Take regular rest breaks – to prevent fatigue during the journey
- Switch off your mobile phone – so you are not distracted by incoming messages and alerts. If you need to make a call or send a message, pull over when it’s safe to do so and switch off your engine
- Think – be aware of what distracts you. A radio that’s too loud, your phone, or even air fresheners dangling from your rear view mirror could cause you to lose concentration on the road.
Considerations for employers
It’s an employer’s duty to assess an employee’s road use while at work and to put in place all ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to manage those risks (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). There are a number of measures that employers can take to help protect their employees from becoming unduly distracted behind the wheel. Consider the following:
- Create road-use policies – to ensure all employees understand that the company expects anyone who drives as part of their work to do so safely
- Provide training and support – offer driver training to all employees and, if an employee is involved in a collision, make sure they receive the support they need. A key consideration is to provide an emergency contact point, either within the organisation or through its insurer, to enable them to receive legal advice or representation as soon as possible
- Raise awareness – during recruitment, training and reviews, remind employees of the dangers of distracted driving and the severe consequences that could result
- Make a record of incidents – investigate any accidents involving employees when driving at work and evaluate if they could have been regarded as ‘distracted’; for instance using their mobile phone. Consider whether actions, such as training, could be taken to prevent repeat occurrences.
In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to the dangers of using a mobile phone behind the wheel and it’s an offence the Government is keen to eliminate. New rules due to come into force this year will mean drivers receive six points on their license and face a £200 fine, if caught using a phone behind the wheel.
Furthermore, the Government has recently launched a consultation on the driving penalties related to causing death or serious injury. The consultation focuses around four specific reforms:
- Creating a new offence – for ‘causing serious injury by careless driving’. This would complement the existing offence of ‘causing serious injury by dangerous driving’, bringing the range of offences in line with each other. This new offence would carry a maximum sentence of two or three years, depending on the outcome of the consultation
- Increasing the maximum sentence – for death by dangerous driving. Currently in discussion is the potential to increase the current 14-year maximum to a life sentence – although the court would retain discretion to apply a shorter sentence within the range, where appropriate
- Creating tougher consequences for drivers under the influence – by bringing the maximum sentences for ‘causing death under the influence of alcohol or drugs’ in line with those of ‘dangerous driving’. This would effectively equate deaths involving drink or drug driving with dangerous driving, regardless of actual road behaviour
- Extending the minimum disqualification period – when deaths occur as a result of a person’s driving. This would be in addition to any custodial sentence, extended so that the ban period begins only at the end of the custodial sentence.
Of course, all these reforms are only proposals currently, but their very suggestion marks a significant step forwards for improving the safety of our roads. There is work for us all to do here, to prevent driver distraction and reduce the number of resulting accidents on our roads.