Photo: Lytx
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Hands-free cell use is opening up drivers to other distractions

May 3, 2019
Lytx fleet data shows that drivers who engage in one distracting behavior are more likely to juggle other distractions behind the wheel; most commercial driver cell phone use occurs at 65 mph.

Hands-free cell phone use is on the rise among drivers but that might be opening them up to other risky behaviors while behind the wheel, according to data recently released by Lytx.

Lytx, a provider of video telematics, analytics, safety and productivity solutions for commercial and public sector fleets, has found that drivers who engage in one potentially risky behavior often engage in other risky behaviors at the same time. The company found that 23% of all its scored events included a driver engaging in multiple potentially risky behaviors.

“It was typically one additional distracted behavior and it was usually when they were using a hands-free device,” Kyle Warlick, a Lytx client intelligence analyst, told Fleet Owner. “A thing that a lot of people don’t think about is if you’re using a hands-free device, talking on that phone, and you’re eating something, you’re kind of compounding the risk  even though you’re being safe using your hands-free device to free up your hands to do other things.”

Warlick said that depending on what additional thing a driver is doing along with talking on the phone, “it can cause a 100% increase in their risk, according to our system. It’s definitely important to be aware that even if you’re using a hands-free device that can be slightly distracting you and then you add something else to it, it definitely compounds the risk.”

The National Safety Council's Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April was an effort to recognize the dangers of and eliminate preventable deaths from distracted driving. Every day, at least nine Americans die in distracted driving crashes. In commercial vehicle fleets, distraction related to cell phone use, eating or general inattention is the second leading driver-related cause of fatal truck crashes.

"Identifying the underlying causes of risky behaviors and addressing the dangers of multi-tasking are crucial first steps to training safer drivers," said Del Lisk, vice president of safety services at Lytx. "We recommend managers help their drivers understand the elevated risks around them, especially during peak times associated with distraction. Also, by advising drivers to make their calls or appointments before they start driving, managers can encourage them to avoid giving in to these temptations."

Lytx uses an internal scoring system to rate risking behavior, which is why when distracting behavior is clustered, it dramatically increases the risk on the road. Insights are derived from Lytx's client database, including public and private fleets in the trucking, waste, transit, government, construction, field services industries, and more. The 2018 data is anonymized, normalized and generalizable to drivers given the high volume of Lytx event recorders on domestic urban, residential and rural roadways.

More distracting stats

Hands-free cell phone use was up 27% in 2018, according to Lytx, which reports that 65% of all cell-phone use was hands-free among the fleets it tracks, which Warlick said was one of the good trends in the data.

Lytx found a 10% increase in the overall volume of events in which drivers using hands-free devices engaged in one or more other potentially risky distractions as well, such as eating, drinking, smoking or using another device. The company also found a 13% increase in the overall volume of risky driving behavior involving handheld cell phones in 2018.

Lytx lumps eating, drinking and smoking into its “food and drink” distractions. Smoking is included because it’s a behavior in which drivers use their hands and mouth.

“While people are talking hands-free, we’ll also see them following the person in front of them too closely or speeding,” Warlick said as another example.

Lytx has collected data from more than 100 billion miles of driving data and 100,000 risky driving events captured by video every day, combined with its machine vision and artificial intelligence technology.

Lytx clients experienced approximately 625,000 fewer instances of risky driving in 2018 compared to 2017. The company's Driver Safety Program has been associated with up to a 50% reduction in collisions and up to 80% reduction in collision-related costs.

“Anytime you’re engaging your brain in something other than driving the brain isn’t a great multitasker it’s hard for it to split focus,” Warlick said. “Even if you’re using a hands-free device and you’re talking to someone on the phone, yeah you have two hands free but that conversation is taking a part of your attention so it may impair your ability to judge the distance of the car in front of you, maybe you’re not paying attention to your speedometer and you’re going a bit fast. So any time you’re distracting your brain that includes things like food a drink because you’re focusing on eating and not spilling all over yourself or that sort of thing — we definitely see a result of that distracting behavior.”

Those results could be speeding, following too closely and sudden stops, as an example.

Lytx found that 23% of all its scored events included a driver engaging in multiple potentially risky behaviors.

Another example is drivers who eat while driving also tend to drive without their seatbelts on or follow the vehicle in front of them too closely.

“Driving without your seatbelt is one of the behaviors we see most correlated with getting into a collision, based on our studies,” Warlick said. “The interesting phenomenon behind that and that’s why when you see someone who is willing to use their cell phone, you see them often driving unbelted  is if you don’t care enough about your own safety to belt yourself in, or you aren’t attentive enough to do that, you tend to carry that over to other driving behaviors. So you’re talking on your cell, you don’t have your seatbelt on, you’re smoking, you’re following the car in front you too close, you’re speeding, those types of things.”

Wearing a seatbelt, he said, is a good indicator of whether a driver will tend to be safer on the road. “It’s just an interesting fact of the data we’ve pulled out,” Warlick said.

Lytx has also found that driver cell phone use occurs most frequently at 65 mph.

“We think it’s likely because of cruise control,” Warlick said. “A lot of our trucks have limiters on them so they can’t exceed 65 mph. A lot of them will set their cruise control and it’s one of those things where once you’re up to highway speed, there’s a certain level of comfort you feel: ‘I’m on my journey, I don’t need to be attentive.’ Or because you have cruise control on, so it’s one less thing you feel you have to pay attention to.”

Warlick said this is the sort of information that other safe drivers can use. “When you’re on the freeway and you see a truck, drive a little more cautiously because you don’t know if that person is on their cruise control, feeling comfortable and aren’t paying attention that well.”

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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