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Distracted driving trends up despite awareness: what you need to know

Distracted driving trends up despite awareness

April 24, 2024
Experts weigh in on distracted driving and how the trucking industry can help with this growing problem.

In a time of advanced cell phone features like Bluetooth and “do not disturb” mode, drivers have the tools to reduce distractions behind the wheel. Yet distracted driving continues to make U.S. roads dangerous.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,308 lives in 2022. As Distracted Driving Awareness Month ends this April, here is a look at the current statistics on distracted driving, what the trucking industry is and isn't doing to address the problem, and tips for fleets and other drivers.

Distracted driving trends

Insurance provider Travelers recently released the results of its 2024 Travelers Risk Index, a survey of consumers and business leaders—including those from the trucking industry—regarding distracted driving. The results are concerning.

The risk index shows that the following distracted driving behaviors are on the rise:

  • Updating or checking social media: +13%.
  • Typing a text or email: +10%.
  • Talking on a cellphone (hands-free): +10%.
  • Using a cellphone to record videos/take photos: +9%.
  • Reading a text or email: +9%.

These behaviors have been on the rise since 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Hayes, AVP of workers compensation and transportation, risk control, at Travelers, told FleetOwner about a theory behind these behaviors' rise: Fewer vehicles were on the roads during the pandemic, so people felt comfortable driving and using their phones. Even though traffic has now increased, these behaviors continue.  

Eighty-five percent of the business leaders surveyed are concerned about their employees’ use of mobile technology while driving. However, only 68% have enacted distracted driving policies, including:

  • Formally communicating about restrictions concerning phone calls, texts, and emails while driving for work (84%).
  • Requiring employees to sign an acknowledgment of the policy (66%).
  • Disciplining employees who do not comply with company policy (77%).
  • Prohibiting the use of handheld devices while driving (53%).

“It's easy to say at a top level that we have a rule in place, we have a policy in place, and you're not supposed to do it [drive while on cell phone],” said Hayes. “The challenge is to make that a systematic thing across your organization."

See also: Study: Distracted driving spikes during holiday travels

Experts weigh in

Insurance provider Sentry recently hosted a panel discussion on distracted driving. The panel consisted of Thomas Goeltz, SVP and director of risk management services at Brown & Brown and distracted driving victims advocate with the National Safety Council; John Cronin, government affairs manager at Sentry; and Steve Bojan, director of transportation safety and loss control services at Sentry. John O’Grady, corporate safety services specialist at Sentry, moderated the discussion.  

At the beginning of the panel discussion, Bojan emphasized why multitasking while driving is such a problem. 

“When we talk about distracted driving, and on the cognitive side in particular, it's important to remember our mind is geared to do one thing at a time,” he said. “We always talk about multitasking, but that's a myth. Our brain is wired to do one thing at a time; the more things we're doing, the less attention we have to others ... And as we're moving at higher speeds, oftentimes on the highway 60, 70, sometimes 80 miles an hour in certain parts of the country, there's very little room for error.”

A significant point made during the panel is that hands-free technology isn’t non-distracting. Goeltz claimed that drivers are still cognitively distracted when using hands-free technology, like talking on speaker or through Bluetooth, and that cognitive distraction causes 85% of distracted driving crashes and fatalities. O’Grady explained that it can take years to get laws passed by state governments, so it’s not safe to assume that using hands-free technology is safe just because it’s legal. Both said transportation companies should impose stricter policies regarding cell phone use while driving than those currently allowed by state governments. 

What fleets can do to decrease distracted driving

As the U.S. tries to raise awareness of and fight off this distracted driving epidemic, the trucking industry plays a role in the problem. Truck drivers spend more time on the road than your average driver, driving heavy-duty tractor-trailers among four-wheelers, which increases their safety role.

Fleet policies

The 2024 Travelers Risk Index found that business leaders are concerned about their employees driving while distracted, but not all have implemented company policies. During the Sentry panel, the experts emphasized the importance of creating and enforcing these policies across the board. 

“The first key is everybody has to follow the same rules of the organization from the president and CEO down to the driver down to the admin that goes to the post office three times a week to pick up the mail,” said Bojan. “Everybody has to be following the same rule, and you have to have the same enforcement mechanism for all of them. Otherwise, it's not going to work if we watch the district manager leave and they're on their phone, holding it up to their head as they're leaving the gate for the facility. What does that tell everybody else?”

Goeltz backed up this point, emphasizing that transportation leaders can’t implement these policies and then call their drivers while they’re on the road. 


It may seem ironic, but there’s technology that can help truck drivers stay off their phones and focus on the road. One of the companies helping with this problem is NoCell Technologies, a software company that helps truck drivers remain focused on the road by limiting driver cell phone use. 

“This is technology that prevents the driver from picking up the phone, and the phone is the number one distraction in the cab today,” said Corey Woinarowicz, chief revenue officer for Nocell Technologies.

Woinarowicz points out that part of the problem is that many trucking companies don’t see the value in investing in preventive technology.

“I think the biggest hurdle that we have to get over is we have to coach companies on how to measure soft dollars versus hard dollars,” he said. “How do you spend on safety when there's no true metric yet? Because you can't measure accidents that don't happen. You can only measure year-to-year comparisons.”

Moreover, Woinarowicz asserts that many drivers are against using such technology because they find it intrusive. Yet he emphasizes that drivers' privacy is protected, and this technology will protect the drivers, ensuring everyone gets home safely.

About the Author

Jenna Hume | Digital Editor

Digital Editor Jenna Hume previously worked as a writer in the gaming industry. She has a bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing from Truman State University and a master of fine arts degree in writing from Lindenwood University. She is currently based in Missouri. 

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