No matter which Atlanta metro county you drive in the most – Fulton or Gwinnett, Dekalb, Clayton, Rockdale or any of the others – the biggest and most dangerous vehicles on our roads are commercial trucks. They’re heavier, harder to stop and more difficult to maneuver than other vehicles.
Driving an 18-wheeler safely requires the trucker’s full attention on not only their vehicle, but on the traffic and road conditions as well. Unfortunately, truck drivers are as easily distracted by electronics as anyone else.
Driving 40 tons of danger
All distracted drivers are dangerous, but when a distracted driver is behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler on a crowded Atlanta-area interstate, street or highway, the potential for multiple victims in a violent, multi-vehicle crash rises exponentially.
Trucking companies are keenly aware of the financial risks posed by distracted truckers likely to be involved in a commercial truck crash with serious injuries or even fatalities. More and more commercial truck fleet operators are proactively investing in training to help truckers stay safe by staying focused.
Understanding the brain
The CEO of CarriersEdge – a company specializing in trucker safety training – says many drivers mistakenly believe they can safely multitask.
“A lot of people will tell you that they don’t get distracted, that they can think about more than one thing at once, and that they can multitask. That is actually not true,” said CarriersEdge CEO Jane Jazrawy. “You can’t multitask. What you can do and what your brain does is just switch between things very, very rapidly. You’re not doing it simultaneously. You’re switching.
“When you are driving, doing anything else that’s not driving can be a distraction,” she said.
Three strikes and you’re out
The director of driver safety services for flatbed carrier Central Oregon Truck says the company has digital recording capabilities in the cabs of its vehicles, in part to monitor employees for distracted driving. They have a three-strike distracted driving policy for their nearly 300 drivers. A trucker who uses their phone while driving gets a warning. A second violation results in a two-day no-pay suspension. A third violation results in termination.
He says that after a first violation, “we show them the footage and say, ‘Hey, your family relies on you to make a living to keep a roof over your head. Is it really worth it? Is this worth your livelihood?’”
Lessons in distractions
One of CarriersEdge’s courses shows how easy it is to become distracted and how hard it is to focus when distracted. According to an article in a trucking industry publication, the safety course begins by showing the names of colors highlighted by matching colors. In other words, the word “red” is colored red, the word “blue” is colored blue, and so on.
Naturally, it’s very easy for truckers taking the course to identify the colors of the words. It gets much trickier when the colors are switched around and the word “red” is colored green, for instance, and “blue” is colored red, etc.
“When you try to read the word, you’re distracted by the color of the word — or when you’re trying to say what the color is, you’re distracted by what the word is,” Jazrawy said. “You’ve got two things coming at you at the same time. You can do it, but you’re a lot slower.”
One more than the other
She said the simple exercise illustrates the slowing effects distractions have on us. “It’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. If you concentrate on where your brain is, you’ll realize that you start thinking about one more than the other at any given moment.”
A driver focused on anything other than driving is more likely to react too slowly when a vehicle ahead of them stops, turns, changes lanes and so on – the basis for so many distracted driving crashes.