Distracted Driving

Distracted driving encompasses more than just using your cellphone or shaving while driving. In this episode of Risky Business, Colin Rooke talks about possible scenarios for commercial drivers if there is a claim submitted for distracted driving.

Listen to the full episode here, or read the full transcript below

Paul Martin: Welcome to Risky Business, commercial insurance with Butler Byers. This is Paul Martin, the business commentator here on CKOM, and again, as always, talking with in studio, Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers Commercial Insurance.

We’ve been covering a lot of ground in the last few months, Colin, some of the more timely stuff like I think we probably did a few shows on marijuana becoming legal and what are the implications of that.

Today, I think I would like to have a conversation about something that, well, it’s really top of mind in terms of more of a consumer side of things.

I want to shift it over to does it have application on the commercial side, which is what we tend to talk about more, and that’s the subject called distracted driving. SGI has just released another set of ads that are very emotional, very hard hitting, and they’re targeted at people that had a family member who was perished in a traffic accident, whether it was from a drunk driver, distracted driver doesn’t really matter. A death is a death is a death, and it is top of mind. Is there a distracted driver issue for those in the commercial world as well? I know we hear about it a lot on the personal side of things, but is this something you talk about with your commercial clients?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, it’s something that comes up all the time. You hit the nail on the head with SGI and their ad campaigns for just really debunking some of the myths of distracted driving. It’s not just alcohol. It’s not just cellphone use. If you surveyed just the general public about, “Well, what is this distracted driving?” You’re going to hear that a lot. There’s a lot more to it. On the commercial fleet side, this could be one commercial vehicle up to 100,000. There’s a lot of applications here. There’s a lot of implications if there is an accident. Most are a result of moments where the driver was distracted.

It’s really easy to blame the driver as well to say, “Well, if you didn’t do this or if you’re paying more attention, this wouldn’t have happened.” At the company level, the business plays a role in any distracted driving claim, and I do want to talk about that as well today.

The business plays a role in any distracted driving claim, and I do want to talk about that as well today.

Paul Martin: That is an intriguing assertion you just made there that the company does have a role in all of this. I assume that is from everything rules and restrictions and requests and requirements that companies impose on drivers to you name it, the whole waterfront. I’m guessing also that particularly in the world of trucking these days, we’re seeing an awful lot more rules around hours that you can operate a vehicle, electronic logs are coming. This stuff’s going to be monitored electronically. You won’t be able to sneak in an extra few minutes when you’re driving. This is getting, obviously, big brother’s almost looking at this topic, aren’t they?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, and I think the commercial trucking industry, they’ve done a fantastic job because if you have a commercial truck, a semi-trailer causes an accident, it’s national news. It’s a big deal. Really, a lot of fingers get pointed at semi drivers, so I think that industry has done a fantastic job. Where you just don’t see as

much attention is the different types of commercial fleets. Semis aren’t the only commercial vehicles on the road. Even if you took what that industry is doing and apply it to any commercial vehicle, I think we could make a lot of improvements in this space.

When you talk about distracted driving, if you want to define it, really it’s inattentiveness on the road caused by an object, activity, event, or person. That’s a really broad definition. It’s not just saying, again, cellphone use or drugs and alcohol. When you talk about, “Okay, well, what does that mean?” Well, you can break it down into four types of distractions. Visual distractions, any distraction that diverts the driver’s eyes from the road, so road signs, pedestrians, other accidents. These are causing accidents. Again, just anything visual that breaks your focus.

Physical distraction, so eating, drinking, turning on the radio. Some of these sound like no-brainers, but it’s happening far too often. Cognitive distractions, number three, would be quite literally the driver thinking about other things. You talk about the impacts of a stressful work environment. If you’ve ever driven while really stressed out, if you got a lot on your mind or you’re trying to multitask, you can get from A to B and not be able to recall the route you took.

Then auditory distraction, like listening to music, fine. Again, a lot of people would come up with that, but what about talking to passengers? Maybe there’s two of you in the vehicle and to pass time, you’re having a deep conversation. Well, it’s important to look at that that this conversation could lead or is causing distracted driving.

Paul Martin: As you run through that list, I’m thinking there are some that are distinctly Saskatchewan too. The one about, what did you call it, cognitive. I think about daydreaming when you’re driving …

Colin Rooke: An open, flat road.

Paul Martin: … down Highway 11.

Colin Rooke: Yeah.

Paul Martin: You get on Highway 11, one of the divided roads of the Trans-Canada, you can forget having gone through a town. You wake up and sort of notice, where did Davidson go?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, absolutely. Am I approaching Davidson, are you passed Davidson?

Paul Martin: Saskatchewan is really prone to that, I would think.

Colin Rooke: It is. You talk about the highway hypnosis effect, and that’s real. Again, now, it’s not just the driver. The company, the business behind the driver needs to say,

“Okay, we have our guys, our people, regularly doing a two or three hour drive in quite frankly, circumstances that are pretty repetitive. What can we do to keep them focused? What policies and procedures can we put in place to avoid this highway hypnosis effect and keep the driver focused on the task at hand?”

Paul Martin: Do we have an answer to that? Is there an answer to that?

Colin Rooke: There’s not any one answer, but there’s a lot you can do. For example, maybe like the buddy system is a good idea, depending on where they’re headed, or maybe there is, for example, regular cues just to snap the driver out of a distraction but also again, limiting stress. You want to make sure that your drivers are hitting the road just with a free and clear mind, not worked up. I’ll give you a good example that I come running in, “Paul, we’re late. This needed to be in Regina two hours ago. I need you to get there quick. We’re going to miss deadline, and this is one of our top customers. Geez, if we’re late again, we’re worried about losing the account.”

Now, the driver may not elect to speed. I’m not saying the company’s asking the driver to speed down to Regina, but you’re headed to Regina with the weight of the world on your shoulders now. If you look at a situation where again, talking about distracted driving, maybe not share that information because if the urgency isn’t going to cause you to speed anyway, we’re not saying, “Well, because it’s late, you got to go 50% faster than you otherwise would.” Maybe just let the driver drive rather than, again, drive with that stress, that distraction of “Geez, this load’s already late, and I’m going to run into an angry customer. If he or she is too angry, then we might lose the account.”

Paul Martin: I’m just the staffer who’s going to face the angry customer too. There’s also that fear piece that’s in it.

Colin Rooke: Exactly.

Paul Martin: Alright, we got to take a little break, Colin. We’re going to come back. We’re talking with Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers Commercial Insurance. Today, we’re looking at the topic of distracted driving. We’re going to have a little break. Back after this.

Paul Martin: Welcome back to Risky Business, Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. This is Paul Martin. Joining me, as always, Colin Rooke, the Commercial Risk Reduction Specialist with Butler Byers Commercial Insurance.

Just before the break, we were talking about the notion of this sort of cognitive awareness, drivers getting hypnosis, and then we were also talking about potentially stress, and what that can do to a distracted driver. Now, there’s a couple of questions that are coming to mind for me, and I’m curious about how the insurance industry looks at this. You and I have talked about how we as drivers, or maybe as business owners, may look at it. What’s the take the insurers take when they look at this topic? I mean, what’s top of mind for them?

Colin Rooke: Really good point, because there is a cost to all of this. I mean, if you have a commercial auto or fleet policy, if you have accidents, if you have drivers that have a colorful past, it will cost you more. And you think, okay, we’re having this talk today. The insurance companies, the insurers, are very aware of all the things that could cause distraction, and again, talking about our process, and going through a risk assessment and identifying these things together, unless we tell them otherwise, they’re assuming all of this stuff.

For example, there’s a real problem with drivers shaving while they’re on the road. It’s real. It exists. It’s happening every single day, thousands of times, shaving while driving. Unless we can address the insurer and say, “We know this is a problem. We have a policy about not shaving while driving, or applying makeup, but we have a policy on this. They’ve signed it. Here are the disciplinary measures if they’re caught doing this, especially if there’s an accident.” Then it’s something that the insurance company could check off the list, that okay, we were concerned about it. Now, we can’t guarantee it won’t happen, but it’s probably not rampant, because we assume that people are going to … that sign off on these policies want to avoid the disciplinary measures and aren’t going to be shaving.

Again, to put things in perspective, they’re assuming you are shaving in the vehicle unless you tell them otherwise, from a risk perspective.

For example, there’s a real problem with drivers shaving while they’re on the road. It’s real. It exists. It’s happening every single day, thousands of times, shaving while driving.

Paul Martin: And that can impact the way the insurer looks at you as a potential when they’re offering you a policy. Yeah.

Colin Rooke: Yeah, absolutely. So, you think about, okay, other things that an employer can do that the insurance company is concerned about, well, having an app that will detect when your vehicle is on the road. Then there’s no requirement to check in with the driver to see, where are you? How close, how far, what speed are you traveling? What happened? So, eliminating that. Again, if we address it, then again, they’re not going to penalize you for not having it.

But maybe you’re not there yet. Maybe you can’t install a GPS, and you’re not going to track it with an app. But something as simple as having a lock box in a commercial fleet that the driver is required to put anything that would distract in that lock box and lock it prior to take-off, again, is something that we can share and talk about together, and reduce risk that way. Because, again, at the end of the day, when we talk about insurance and underwriters, they’re gambling on whether or not they think you’re going to have claims, and whether or not the account’s going to be profitable. Every item that we can address, it goes in the favor of the business.

Paul Martin: Some of this just seems so, on the face of it, obvious. No distracted driving. But as you dig into this, all of a sudden, we’re starting to see the implications of this. Peel back a couple of layers, and all of a sudden, you’re finding out there are things that I can … Well, first, there are biases, or preconceived notions, that the insurance industry holds, so I have to debunk them for my company. That’s step one.

But really, it starts, I guess, maybe not step one there. Maybe prior to that is, I have to recognize this as a business owner. I have to be able to say, “Distracted driving is not something that just affects me after hours, or at home, or when I’m driving the kids around.”

Colin Rooke: Yeah, exactly. It’s also really important to sort of … With technological advances, we talked about GPS tracking on a vehicle. So, there’s a lot you can do. There’s cameras for inside the cab to actually record what the driver’s doing, just for a sort of a driver audit. Some of technologies do a fantastic job of reducing risk, but some of them actually increase the likelihood of risk.

If you say, “Okay, well, if you didn’t know the route 30 years ago, how would you determine how to get somewhere? You’d open a map. You’d open the map, you’d study the route, and you’d make some notes or memorize it, and you’d know where to go.” Then in comes nav screens, right? GPS track, navigation systems, you think, whew, solves that problem.

No. So, the navigation causes more accidents than not having navigation. You think, well, how is that? If you’re stressed out trying to find where you’re trying to go, and you have a nav that’s telling you where to go, I mean, how could that cause more accidents? Because you have to listen to it, and you’ve got to look at it. Inside the cab, you have this visual stimulus that grabs your attention, especially, for example, when you’re looking for an off-ramp. It says, “In 800 meters, exit, or veer right.” Maybe there’s a couple. Maybe you’re not sure if it’s quite in sync. Maybe it looks closer to 300 meters. It said, “800 meters,” you’re not sure if you take this one or the next one.

The point is, the old way, you would say, “Take Highway 11 till such-and-such, exit on such-and-such route.” And you don’t need cues to remind you of that. So, again, you really got to think, is the nav helping, or is it harming?

One thing that I would say a few fail to, I guess, take into account, is drivers that are in multiple vehicles. Paul, if you’ve ever driven your wife’s car, and I guess, I’ll say, this happens to me. I get in my wife’s car and I feel like I’m in a spaceship. I feel like I’m in a, it’s a-

Paul Martin: Totally different vehicle.

Colin Rooke: … totally different vehicle. It might take me a couple of days to actually get used to everything. I’m feeling around with buttons. I don’t know where things are. I know my car. I could do it with my eyes shut. Well, now, you imagine that you’ve got 10 vehicles, 20 drivers, and you’re rotating people all the time.

Every time that driver gets into a different vehicle, there’s, well, again, there’s buttons in different places, but the visibility might be totally different, better, worse. The vehicle could be wider, faster, slower, you name it. So, consistency is really important, that you say, “Okay, a certain number of drivers will only drive this vehicle, because we want them familiar with the vehicle.” Again, that’s the company level. The drivers don’t get to make that call.

And again, I’m not talking about long haul, semi driving. Usually there’s a lot of owner-operators that will be tied, but commercial vehicles, whether you’re driving around in the city, or short distances, delivering, you name it.

Paul Martin: All right. We’ve got maybe a minute left to go. I just want to ask, you have a handout or a guide that a commercial business or an employer may reach out to you, and you could provide some guidance?

Colin Rooke: Exactly. The importance here is we need to discuss it, and then policies and procedures to outline the company’s stance on distracted driving. So, we’ve got all the tips, for both the driver, we have the tips for the employer. We’ve got policies that you can use as is, review, and have everyone sign off on. We even have disaster, or sorry, distracted driving posters, we’ve got whole fleet safety manuals, everything that you would need to get this all in check.

Paul Martin: So all we got to do is just reach out to you, just give you a call?

Colin Rooke: Reach out, we’ll get you one. Yeah.

Paul Martin: Ask for Colin at Butler Byers in Saskatoon, and you’ll send one off, free of charge.

Colin Rooke: Yup. Reference Risky Business, and they’ll make sure we get you in front of someone that can get you this.

Paul Martin: Always reference Risky Business, right?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, right.

Paul Martin: Exactly. As hosted by Paul Martin-

Colin Rooke: Yeah, Paul.

Paul Martin: … with, yes, Colin Rooke. Please, put all of that information in. Anyway, Colin, as always, time has just flown by, and a topic that I thought probably I knew quite a bit about, turns out, if you peel back that layer a little bit, you find out there’s way more to understand about something as, sort of-

Colin Rooke: Yeah. I hardly got into my notes.

Paul Martin: … yeah, sort of is in your face as distracted driving. So, thanks again. You’ve been listening to Colin Rooke, the Commercial Risk Reduction Specialist with Butler Byers Commercial Insurance. This is Risky Business, Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. I’m Paul Martin. Thanks for joining us.