Getting Through to Our Distracted and Impaired Drivers

We have all heard about distracted and impaired driving, and we automatically think we know the issues, the causes, and the "culprits." The truth is not nearly as simple; it rarely is. Companies will spend tens of thousands of dollars on driver training only to find their drivers make behavioral choices that put them at risk, even accidentally.

Once we learned from our corporate fleet clients that both distracted and impaired driving are major concerns for them, we went in search of subject-matter experts to learn firsthand about the reality of those situations. Who might know better than somebody who is already responsible for public safety as a member of the Sacramento Sheriff's Office -- Officer Brazell?

Our goal was to gain a much deeper understanding of both distracted and impaired driving so that we could include the most effective and compelling content into a fleet product to deter those dangerous decisions drivers may make behind the wheel. I'd like to share some of those "less than obvious" lessons we learned as part of this process. I will cover both impaired and distracted driving.

Understanding Impairment
Impaired drivers most often don't do it "on purpose." We all think of those idiots that drink very heavily well into the night and are "falling down drunk" getting behind the wheel. But the reality is, the vast majority of people arrested for DUI/DWI are not that way at all. They are often still in business clothes -- sometimes proudly displaying your logo, by the way -- and heading home from a client meeting or group get-together after work. They had no intention of breaking the law, but did. Officer Brazell said one of the most unusual things about DUI/DWI arrests are that people don't think of themselves as criminals because criminals usually intentionally break the law, by stealing or harming others.

Impairments are oftentimes not alcohol or illegal drugs at all. Being impaired simply means having decreased ability to perform the task of driving safely. Allergy medications, energy drinks, or simply very long hours at work can make you just as impaired as alcohol. If you had an employee drinking multiple glasses of wine right before driving home, you would consider him a threat to the public and a risk to the company. But what about a great employee who is taking an allergy medication and working 12-hour days?

The person who would never text behind the wheel can be just as distracted as if she were. It is appropriate to do everything we can to prevent all who drive from texting while they are doing so. We met with a company that bans texting while driving, and yet their drivers use Google Maps to find the directions to customer site installations. When calls, e-mails, or text messages come in, it interrupts the navigation, creating a distraction and diverting attention.

Another company had electronic devices for logging stops, customer visits, etc. and the same device is used for entering notes and dispatching. What happens once a field rep stays with a customer 15 minutes longer than anticipated? They start to enter notes and receive tasks on the device while they are driving. So they don't use their phone to be distracted but will use company equipment with the best of intentions, but they are creating massive liability and risk to the corporation by doing so.

Getting Tougher on Distracted Drivers
When we asked a series of people who live in states where texting while driving is illegal why they shouldn't do it, the most common response was, "Because I could get a ticket." During our research into the topic, it was clear that getting a ticket is the least of your concerns. Very simply, if I am trying to drive to the best of my ability and make a mistake, even a terrible one such as hitting a pedestrian, the company and the court will view it as just that: a mistake. It doesn't mean there won't be a variety of consequences, but at least they won't be criminal in nature. The legal system in general is getting tired of drivers who have given so little of their attention to driving that driving safely seems secondary.

To try to save lives, careers, and to lessen corporate risk, we've taken these concepts and built them into very compelling first-person experiences in our simulation products. So a fleet driver who is driving our "inattention blindness" lesson on the virtual trainer will have to "live through" being in front of a judge accountable for the actions.

In summary, impaired driving and distracted driving are considered behavior choices that risk everything. The more creative ways we can find to bring attention to these topics in a manner that will resonate with employees, the less we will have to fear on the roadways.

Bob Davis is president of Virtual Driver Interactive,

Posted by Bob Davis on Aug 07, 2013