woman in the driver's seat looking at a phone

Distracted driving is a leading cause of vehicle accidents. This article reviews the benefits of using new technology to prevent distractions.

Using technology to prevent cell phone-related accidents

Implementing a distracted driving policy is a critical step toward managing cell phone use of vehicle operators, addressing a leading cause of vehicle accidents. While having a distracted driving policy is a good practice, it doesn’t guarantee your drivers will follow it. This is evident by the continual use of hand-held phones and texting in states that prohibit it.

A driver that knowingly violates their organization’s policy may negatively impact the organization’s defense in an accident, no matter who was at fault.

Many organizations are taking a proactive approach and are utilizing technological measures to control and monitor cell phone use. These solutions range from simple do-not-disturb-while-driving settings on a phone, to full software or telematics solutions that can lock down all phones or monitor phone use. Let’s look at key items to be considered when evaluating technological solutions to phone-related distracted driving.

Locking down a phone

Locking down a phone typically entails restricting access to phone functions so a driver cannot use them when the vehicle is in motion.

  • Exceptions may include allowing:
    • Handsfree calling
    • Calls made to / received from designated numbers, such as a dispatcher or manager
    • Access to GPS routing app screens
    • Music apps which require set-up prior to driving or run through the vehicle’s infotainment system.
    • Emergency 911 calls
  • Some solutions include:
    • Tags or devices placed in the organization’s vehicle which link to the driver’s phone, triggering the phone lock-down. The phone has full function when in other vehicles.
    • The ability to function only during certain hours or days. This may be appropriate for drivers using their own vehicle for business, allowing the driver to use their phone without restrictions when off-duty.
    • A passenger indicator which allows the driver to use his or her phone when a passenger.
    • An automated response such as “I am driving now and will respond to your call (or text) when safely parked”.

Phone use monitoring

Organizations which allow phone calls while driving for critical calls, or allow hands-free calls, would benefit from a system that monitors cell phone use. Monitoring allows the organization to determine if drivers are using a phone more than they should while driving. Monitoring systems:

  • Work by detecting calls on the phone and/or detect phone movement; based on the notion that anytime you are moving the phone you are distracted
  • May or may not track hands-free calls
  • Typically track the number of calls and duration
  • Often include a distracted driving score for a driver based on frequency of calls, duration of calls, and speed when calls are made.
  • Include a management portal for managers to evaluate staff phone use; including driver and team scores as well as trip maps that depict where the phone use took place.
  • Provide post-trip feedback to the driver on their app, indicating their distracted driving score as well as a route map showing where they were using the phone along the route. This encourages the driver to limit their phone use.

Solution options

There are different solutions available for locking down or monitoring cell phone use. The following options are generally in order of effectiveness, from least to most:

Lock-Down Features on the Phone or a Third-Party App
Organizations may use Do-Not-Disturb-While-Driving (DNDWD) features native to the phone or download an app with these features. For organizations that provide company phones, these apps are effective as long as the driver does not have the ability to disable them. For organizations that do not provide phones, ensuring the DNDWD feature is enabled on an employee’s phone is difficult.

Many drivers are interested in using DNDWD functions on their personal phones but do not know how to set them up. Providing training or informational bulletins on this topic may encourage more use. iPhones and Google Pixel include a DNDWD function as a native feature. Android phones require a third-party app. Click the following links for instructions on enabling the DNDWD feature on iPhones and Google Pixel.

Lock-Down Features Through a Cell Phone Service Provider
Several major cell service providers allow lock-down administration of all phones that are part of a corporate account. An organization should contact their provider for specifics. Provider systems allow for easy administration and may be available as part of the service or at a very reasonable cost.

Enterprise Solutions
Enterprise solutions are available from a growing number of vendors. They allow an organization to lock down or monitor phone use of any phone in which the app is downloaded. Typically, a tag or other device is positioned in the vehicle which connects to the app so tracking only occurs when in an organization vehicle. Enterprise solutions generally provide the most features, settings and flexibility. They can work with both company and employee-owned phones. Several solutions have the ability to detect rogue phones in the vehicle - addressing the issue of an employee using their own phone when the company phone is locked. Many provide some limited GPS tracking capabilities as well. Enterprise solutions typically run $15-$20 per month per vehicle and may require a three- to five-year contract. Truce Software, LifeSaver, NoCell, and Motion Intelligence are examples of enterprise solutions.1

Telematics Solutions
Many telematics systems have added phone lock-down or monitoring features. They operate similar to enterprise systems but are included in the telematics package or are available at a reasonable cost. They require downloading an app on the phone or may detect phone usage through in-cab facing cameras. Some

Things to think about

  • Many of the DNDWD features allow for hands free phone use while driving. Many studies indicate hands-free phone use is a significant distraction. If hands-free phone use is allowed, best practice is to manage it using a solution described above.
  • Many drivers use voice to text apps or voice controls built into their vehicle’s infotainment system to limit distractions. However, recent studies are indicating that these systems in themselves are as distracting or more distracting than the activity they are intending to eliminate. Organizations should use caution regarding recommending these tools and employees should be made aware of the potential distraction.
  • Some organizations choose to provide drivers with a phone and lock it down. However, they fail to adequately address the driver’s use of their personal phone. Strong policies against personal phone use are required.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations prohibit phone use other than hands-free calls for vehicles over 10,000 GVWR or GCWR. Locking down phones is strongly encouraged for drivers operating these regulated vehicles.

[1] Nationwide does not endorse these or any other enterprise solutions. They are provided as an example.

Additional Resources:

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