Part 2: How telematics can help beat driver distraction

Guest post written by Dr Lucia Kelleher

Telematics distraction prt2 1Roy was back at work on Monday and in his supervisor’s office. He’d had a rough weekend, thinking about what had happened on Friday and had literally talked himself into the idea that he was going to be laid off.

Roy is usually quite good at switching off from work and is normally very attentive to his children and helps out with the weekend activities. Not so this weekend, as the stress of what was going to happen come Monday was constantly on his mind.

Brendan, Roy’s supervisor came in and shut the door. Roy’s heart sank and he braced himself for a ‘serve’.

It didn’t come; in fact Brendan began by acknowledging how Roy was an excellent driver and one of the best in his crew. He said he understood how hard it is to stay focused all day, day in and day out, and that it was a problem that he and senior managers talked about endlessly.

Brendan asked Roy if he had any clues as to what caused him to lose focus and side-swipe the car. Roy told Brendan about the football and how it had become a bit of an issue at home and that he had been thinking about it whilst driving.

Brendan said that he was not surprised and had thought something had been playing on Roy’s mind to cause him to be distracted. Brendan went on to say that he and the other managers were looking into methods for how they could help drivers stay focused. He said: “Most of the time you are 100 per cent focused Roy, and we know that all the rules in the world are not going to make any difference to what is going on in your head. “You are the only one that can control that – it’s just the same for all our drivers.”

Brendan had a background in human factors and was well aware of how easy it was for drivers to drift off, particularly when they had other outside things going on.

Busy brain syndrome

He also knew that this was increasing due to Busy Brain Syndrome, a phenomena he had read about. He had sought out a trainer for his drivers who had a background in brain science because he had learned from experience that this problem needed to be tackled at the root cause.

The brain’s first job is to keep us safe from danger. The part of the brain that keeps us safe is called the survival brain, and it’s designed to filter incoming ‘stuff’ for threats – called the ‘fight or flight centre’.

Everything has to be ‘checked’ and the speed of stuff coming at the brain in today’s world has caused this fight or flight mechanism to be ON permanently.

Busy Brain Syndrome causes drivers to miss seeing and hearing things when they are distracted. It is the brain that ‘sees and hears’ – not the ‘eyes and ears’, they are sensory processors of stimulus.

Busy Brain Syndrome and distraction from too much ‘stuff’ means these sensory processors are overloaded and they do not process – full stop.

If it’s the eyes and ears that fail when drivers are distracted, then the way to tackle this problem is through targeting these sensory processors.

Visual reminders

The most effective way for people to lose weight for example is to put a visual reminder on or in the fridge and pantry and in other places such as in their wallet/purse where they will see the reminder when they are tempted to eat out of habit rather than need.

Why? Because people who overeat do so on autopilot (they have no conscious control over going to the fridge).

A sensory trigger such as a visual cue in the fridge snaps them out of autopilot when they see it. The trigger means they consciously decide not to eat, so they program themselves not to overeat.

Within a short period of time (21 days) of consistent reminders – the habit can be broken. People who stick with this strategy now have this image imprinted in the forefront of their minds and can stop themselves before they go to the fridge.

Using telematics

So let’s translate this strategy to driving. The biggest cause of distraction whilst driving, is losing focus through overthinking about things that are not related to driving. So drivers need to create triggers or anchors that will keep them focused on the job.

Drivers who have successfully been able to achieve this have put ‘something’ in their line of vision that reminds them to stay focused and not think about ‘other things’, similar to the visual cue in the fridge.

What is important is not the object specifically, but the programming that goes with it – stay focused on driving.

Telematics can be used as a powerful anchor or trigger for drivers for example. The whole idea of telematics is to improve driving, of which driving safely is the most important aspect.

Rather than viewing telematics as ‘the boss watching me’ drivers can use telematics as a trigger or anchor to stay focused, pay attention and to re-program so they don’t lose concentration when thinking about other things.

Get with the (re)program

All vehicles fitted with telematics will have a label either outside the cab or inside which, along with other aspects of telematics, can be programmed by drivers to act as a trigger to stay focused on driving.

For example once drivers program themselves to think ‘telematics keeps me focused on driving at all times’, they will receive their first anchor or trigger when seeing the telematics label as they open the cab door.

The second anchor or trigger will come when drivers enter their telematics ID into an in-cab touch screen. As they enter their ID, they mentally say to themselves, telematics keeps me focused.

From that moment, drivers have used seeing the telematics label, and inputting their ID on the touchscreen as programming to stay focused on the road.

Telematics two-way messaging can also serve as another valuable trigger to keep drivers focused on the task at hand – particularly if dispatchers use the system to alert drivers to any performance issues (such as heavy braking) that may crop up unconsciously throughout the day.

Add to that a regular program of feedback and even a telematics driver incentive program, and there will be even more opportunity for telematics to become a powerful trigger to program drivers to keep their minds on the job.

The more anchors or triggers associated with a programmed message to stay focused and the less likely it is your driver will get distracted on the road.

In time (21+ days), the simple physical action of entering their ID into a touch screen will serve as a daily anchor for keeping guys like Roy, alert and 100 per cent focused on driving.

Each time they look at the screen it will serve as a consistent visual trigger to stay focused and not drift off thinking about last night’s disagreement.

By understanding the root causes of distraction – rather than just pointing the finger at your drivers – you’ll be able to implement a few simple visual cues and physical triggers that will help your team and trucks stay safer on the road.