The motor carrier industry has been effectively using video-based onboard monitoring data to identify and augment unsafe behaviors for years now. Safety professionals have used their instincts and experience to identify behaviors to target and have been successfully driving down crash rates in their fleet as a result. Obvious errors were the easiest to address, like failing to yield the right-of-way or not obeying a traffic control device. More qualitative issues like driver distraction and drowsiness, however, have been a little more difficult to quantify and mitigate. What types of distractions are those most dangerous? Are very short distractions, like adjusting dashboard instruments, as dangerous as longer distractions? What are effective strategies to mitigate drowsiness?

New research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Research in early August may provide some answers. The study, cleverly titled “Analysis of Naturalistic Driving Data to Assess Distraction and Drowsiness on Drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles,” analyzed over 3.8 million miles of data from seven fleets to measure the likelihood of certain driver behaviors to result in a safety-critical event.

While the results mostly confirm current understanding, there are a few easter eggs that safety professionals could use to reduce crash risk:

  1. While any time drivers take their eyes off the road reduces safety, there is a significant increase in the likelihood of being involved in a safety-critical event when the driver is distracted for two or more seconds.
  2. The mean eyes off the roadway time for truck drivers while texting is four seconds.
  3. Most safety-critical events occurred in daylight, with no adverse conditions, on divided highways and in low traffic situations, suggesting drivers may be lulled into unsafe behaviors when perceived risk is low.
  4. Talking on a hands-free device reduced the risk of being involved in a safety-critical event.
  5. Dancing, talking, or singing showed a reduced risk of being involved in a safety-critical event. These activities also appear to reduce drowsiness.

While STC is not advocating for giving driver’s dancing lessons along with driver training, it’s happy to see new research attempting to measure the effectiveness of potential countermeasures to combat drowsiness. So, go ahead, turn up the radio and let loose. You’ll be safer for it.