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Eyes on the Road: Combatting Distracted Driving in the Lumber Industry

by Mike Zdrojewski

Muti-tasking is near impossible, with only about 2.5% of people able to do so effectively according to a University of Utah study. Still, so many of us, while driving, are tempted to skip through songs, read a text or reach for something. In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, now is a perfect time to see what more your lumber and building material business can do to curb distracted driving within your fleet.  

In 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported a staggering 3,308 people died in distracted driving accidents. While such statistics do exist, incidents often go under-reported, short of a driver-facing camera, an eyewitness or a very honest driver meaning distracted driving is likely a more extensive problem than anyone realizes. 

Today’s drivers navigate a multitude of challenges that did not exist a few decades ago. Adjusting the radio, rolling down a window or reaching for something are all more traditional distractions that have been around for decades. In recent years, those distractions have been compounded by texting, phone conversations, navigation services and a number of entertainment options. On top of that, there are more licensed drivers on the road in the U.S. today than ever before, totaling nearly 240 million. All of these factors contribute to a greater likelihood of a dangerous and costly distracted driving accident. 

So what can business owners in the lumber and building material industry do to protect their drivers, their businesses and others on the road against distracted driving? It comes down to education, talent, training, technology and of course, having the right insurance partner.

Best Practices to Combat Distracted Driving

Find the best drivers: Hiring and retaining drivers continues to be a struggle for lumber dealers and operators, but having attentive, quality drivers is crucial to fleet safety and avoiding distractions. If securing new talent is proving a challenge, lumber dealers and operators should consider promoting from within. A warehouse employee, for example, might be interested in becoming a driver if presented with the opportunity.  

Train your drivers: It can be easy for business leaders to assume their drivers understand the dangers of distracted driving, but that’s hardly the case. Drivers must be familiar with the risks of engaging in distracted driving as well as tools to avoid such a scenario. Some tactics might include having a pre-trip routine, ensuring any texts are already sent and devices are on do not disturb before a vehicle is put in drive. Training should be done at least at-hire and annually, or when there is an incident. While it may seem like a redundant task, education is one of the key strategies to inform drivers and instill responsibility when they are out on their routes. 

Understand the consequences: The potential consequences of a distracted driving accident could include serious, possibly fatal injuries and costly damages. Drivers who engage in texting while driving could also be subject to fines, penalties or loss of license per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s regulations.

Invest in technology: Accidents happen and while most distracted driving incidents are avoidable, technology offers an extra line of defense and proof for drivers and the lumber business that employ them. Every fleet-operating business should consider a few tech tools for the safety of their drivers, fellow drivers and the business at large. A few of those technology tools include: 

  • Cell phone blocking & monitoring is a tool that limits a drivers access to their cell phone while driving, usually in the form of a mobile application, to adjust driver behavior. Companies such as LifeSaver create apps that run in the background of a drivers phone and only presents a visual block on their phone when a vehicle is in motion.
  • Telematics often comes in the form of a box connected to a vehicle that monitors driver behaviors such as hard braking, speeding and more. Azuga offers a range of telematics resources to help lumber dealers and operators analyze driver behavior to address it.
  • Cameras, both driver facing and dash cameras, can help business owners and drivers prove fault in the event of an accident as well as discourage distracted driving. Many telematics providers offer some sort of distracted driving alerts, but a driver facing camera can show exactly what happened before, during and after an accident.

Insurance & Distracted Driving 

Combatting distracted driving is a team effort and an insurance professional who specializes in the wood niche can be a key resource in fleet risk mitigation, considering technology options and much more. Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company (PLM) offers a library of resources via the Loss Control Center covering several fleet-related topics including distracted driving. An insurance professional can also advise clients on the potential impacts a distracted driving incident can have, offer comprehensive risk assessments and help with claims in the event of one. 

Distracted driving is a societal issue and a rising threat to everyone on the road. Business owners cannot afford for their drivers to be off their game for even a minute. A great place for lumber dealers and operators to begin or strengthen their protocols against distracted driving is by speaking with an insurance professional who understands distracted driving risks as well as the lumber industry. And what better time to get started than Distracted Driving Awareness Month. 

About the Author

Mike Zdrojewski is a loss control consultant with Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, the oldest and largest mutual insurance company dedicated to the wood products and materials industry. He can be reached at 267-825-9152 or by email at mzdrojewski@plmins.com.

To learn more about Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, visit www.plmins.com.

photos: iStock.com

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