Distracted Driving: An “All of Us” Problem

The text could have waited.

I was sending it to my sister, who's never been the impatient kind, even back in 2007. But, as I finished typing my reply and looked up, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

I impacted the stopped car in the left lane of the 101 Freeway traveling less than 20 mph. That car lurched forward and hit a second one stopped a few feet in front of it. Though all of this occurred within two seconds, those two seconds were an eternity, suspended between the nauseating crunch of metal on metal and the sound of "I'm okay" from the mouths of two commuters whose evenings I’d just ruined.

Distracted driving caused the only collision I'd been involved in my two otherwise unblemished decades behind the wheel. Twelve years later, it remains the leading cause of traffic accidents in the United States, and despite more widespread awareness of the dangers of phone distraction while driving, the problem persists. In 2017 alone, distracted driving accounted for 8.5 percent of American traffic fatalities.

Why are we as a society so prone to distracted driving, especially when we know it’s dangerous and irresponsible? Why did I choose to learn the hard way?

Back then, there was novelty in the idea of being connected to the world at all times, even through a flip phone. That compulsion to stay connected has only intensified as smartphones and the apps we all use have grown increasingly addictive. Even as attitudes among texting and driving have evolved somewhat, attitudes around app usage while driving remain cavalier. A total of 56% of survey respondents believe that using apps while driving has no negative influence on their driving safety; 3% of respondents actually think they’re better drivers when using a smartphone app. The reality, of course, is the opposite. Research shows that humans cannot focus on more than one thing at a time, full stop.

It’s also worth noting that I was alone in the car when I decided to text and drive. Jay Winsten, Director of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, cites inadequate social stigma as a persistent root cause of distracted driving. Would I have made a different decision if someone were in the car watching me? Quite possibly. And while having a human “conscience” in the passenger seat at all times isn’t a practical solution, maybe smartphone technology itself is the unlikely ally we’ve all been waiting for.

In business, it’s said that you should inspect what you expect. At HopSkipDrive, we have a zero tolerance policy for illegal device usage while driving, and we monitor the device usage of CareDrivers on our platform through our CareDriver app. While some legal use is unavoidable (they do need to communicate by phone to both organizers and riders sometimes), we have found that the mere act of making drivers aware of their own phone usage has yielded powerful results in terms of adjusting behavior and enhancing safety.

That device usage data shows that while U.S. drivers are on their phones an average of 7.762% of the time they’re driving, CareDrivers are on the phone just 0.987% of the time (that’s 8 times less than the national average)*. In addition to data around device usage, HopSkipDrive also collects data around other risky behaviors that predict collisions, such as speeding, rapid braking, rapid acceleration, and hard cornering. This data informs success cards: safety report cards sent to all CareDrivers that compare their behaviors to national and regional benchmarks.

Beyond the bells and whistles, though, safety will always require basic mindfulness: creating the conscious conditions, awareness, focus and space to anticipate risks, and then defending the time and space you need to react to them. And it’s not enough to be mindful in the moment. To improve safety, you first need to define, even quantify, what safety means to you. It requires honest introspection, especially about where you need to improve. As I’ve learned since joining HopSkipDrive, it’s no different when you’re building safety into a business.

Welcome to our monthly Safety Spotlight blog series, where you’ll hear from the architects, managers, thinkers and doers behind the safety program at HopSkipDrive. They are an experienced, intelligent, and candid bunch, eager to share their perspectives on why safety matters and how we pursue it every day. We hope to give you plenty of food for thought, and even some opportunities to join the conversation. Thanks in advance for riding along with us!

* Source: Zendrive

Chris BertoletComment