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35 BACKGROUND This chapter presents findings from structured interviews with carrier owners and managers. The structured interviews are based on phone interviews, which followed the comple- tion of the survey by each respondent. The last question the survey asked respondents was if they would be interested in participating in a brief follow-up interview to discuss safety practices relating to driver distraction. The question included the assurance, âResponses will be confidential; none of your comments are for attribution.â Interviewees were selected based on their willingness to participate and on indica- tions in the survey that they were actively engaged in carrier safety. The phone interviews lasted approximately 30 min each and followed a structured but flexible sequence of questions. As seen in the interview summary tables in Appendix D, the interviews addressed the following general topics: â¢ Carrier description â¢ Degree to which distracted driving is a safety problem â¢ Primary sources of driver distraction (behaviors as well as devices) â¢ Countermeasures put in place by fleet and motivation to implement these particular countermeasures â¢ How measures were communicated to drivers, and their responses â¢ Measures of success and benchmarks â¢ Additional comments. The responses shown in the right column of each structured interview table include some respondent answers transcribed from the survey questionnaire in addition to comments in the phone interview. Companies are identified here only as âCarrier A,â âCar- rier B,â etc. No interviewee names or company contact infor- mation is provided. All of the interviewees projected themselves as conscien- tious individuals and well-intended managers of their com- paniesâ safety operations. Many good safety insights and examples of effective management practices are provided in the structured interviews. Nevertheless, project resources did not permit formal evaluation of any carrier or its practices. No carrier or public records on safety or compliance were examined. Doing so would have required a far greater con- tract effort and would likely have sharply reduced participa- tion. Practices described should be taken as suggestions for consideration by readers, not necessarily as scientifically proven methods. Industry readers may judge for themselves the applicability of methods and ideas presented to their operations. As with the project survey, the structured interviews and structured interview write-ups are intended to capture both objective information (e.g., carrier characteristics and prac- tices used) and subjective information (e.g., opinions on safety risks, effective practices, and outside factors affecting their companies). Some of the interview questions addressed con- troversial topics, such as potentially prohibiting cell phone use in commercial trucking. Varied views on these topics were stated and are conveyed here to fully and accurately capture interviewee opinions. These opinions may be paraphrased in the write-ups or provided as direct quotations. Importantly, within each structured interview, qualitative statements made and provided here reflect the opinions of the interviewee. Statements from the structured interviews do not necessarily reflect those of the report authors or TRB. Only motor carriers are represented in the structured inter- views. Motor coach surveys did yield some responses in terms of follow-up interviews; however, efforts to arrange these interviews were not successful. MOTOR CARRIER COMPANIES Eleven trucking company owners and managers were inter- viewed. Their structured interviews are presented in the tables in Appendix D and summarized here. Structured Interviews Summary Nature of the Problem As to the degree to which distracted driving is a safety prob- lem, one safety manager recalled the âold daysâ when operat- ing the tractor took a significant amount of attention and the in-cab distractions were as simple as operating an eight-track tape player. Now the tractor is easier to operate; there are driver assist systems for collision avoidance, the dashboard includes many indicators, and cell phones are ringing: so in-cab dis- tractions have âexponentially grown.â CHAPTER FOUR STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS
Although all of those interviewed agreed distraction is a problem, several cautioned about overreacting to it. One safety manager who was a former driver noted âYou donât want a cab with nothing at all going on, but you need to elim- inate distractions that remove the driverâs concentration from his driving duties.â Another former driver agreed and was of the opinion that CB radios are not a problem because their operation is different from using mobile phones. Prime sources of driver distraction noted by these safety managers were personal tasks, cell phone use, reaching for objects, and interacting with audio entertainment. About half considered reading maps and passenger interactions key sources of distraction, and a few reported that active safety systems could also be distracting. One manager relayed a story of a driver who dropped an important document and crashed while trying to pick it up. In general, this group believes in using systems such as FCW, LDW, and roll stability systems to address unsafe driving overall. However, whereas âevery new piece you add is a shiny light and can be a distraction,â even adjusting a seat can be a distraction. Another made the point that driver mind- set is key; many factors are under the driverâs control, such as use of the CB radio, use of the cell phone, reaching into the cooler, and attending to cigarettes, climate control, and audio entertainment. Company culture plays a role. One interviewee noted that monitoring drivers for distractions is certainly possi- ble; however, it becomes an issue with âbig brotherâ watch- ing over a driver. The interviewee works for a private fleet with a low turnover, and he noted that the company culture will suffer if the right balance between monitoring, safety, and trust is not achieved. Another manager contrasted his operation with bigger fleetsâthey can have hard policies because they do not know their drivers, but how can they really enforce them? For him, âI can put my arms around all my driversâI know them.â The personal touch makes for a culture where they rely on their driverâs good judgment. At the same time, as another put it, his drivers âunderstand Big Brother is here.â Regarding driver distraction, he is trying to slowly ease them into a changed mindset that focuses on what they per- sonally control: â¢ Choosing when and how to communicate while driving, â¢ Using a CB radio, â¢ Tuning a radio, â¢ Using a GPS, and â¢ Wellness habits (including smoking). With regard to smoking in particular, several see it as a distraction risk as well as a wellness issue; therefore, work- place wellness programs can positively impact the distrac- tion arena as well. 36 Addressing the Problem Participation in national programs such as a Responsible Care program was reported as part of establishing a strong safety culture, from which a distracted driving policy can be derived. The FMCSA Compliance, Safety, Accountability initiative was also noted by some as being helpful. These discussions indicated that larger fleets are more likely to have clear cell phone use policies. For instance, one of the these fleets had a stringent policy that was character- ized informally as âyou canât play with anythingâ while oper- ating the vehicle, including anytime the driver is at the con- trols of a truck, even if stopped at a traffic light. In the group interviewed, some smaller fleets prohibited cell phone use, whereas others discouraged it or had no policy. These smaller fleets were more likely to emphasize the importance of trust relationships with their drivers, expecting professionalism and for them to exercise good judgment. One manager noted that his company had considered the possibility of allowing drivers to talk in a hands-free mode and decided against itâ they do not want them talking at all. More than one noted that, even while they currently do not have a cell phone ban in place, they are working toward a total ban and are devel- oping the driver buy-in and ownership to go there. Several noted that, regardless of the policy, it is very difficult to ensure compliance. Addressing in-vehicle devices and screens is a high prior- ity. Several companies in the interview group use vehicle mes- saging and tracking systems or electronic on-board recorders that have display screens with various levels of lock-out capability. Some prevent outgoing messages only, whereas others blank the screen entirely while the vehicle is moving. However, for some fleets blanking the screen would inter- fere with the navigation function. Other features enable the driver to have messages relayed by computer voice through the vehicle speakers or a single button to push to tell dispatch âIâm driving, donât call my phone right now.â For a fleet in which drivers use a personal digital assistant for messages, the protocol is that the device sounds to indicate a message is waiting and the driver must stop the vehicle to access and read the message. Team driving represents a special case. One fleet blanks the in-cab screen when tractors are rolling, with an exception for teams. He believes drivers comply with this policy and that team driving provides checks and balances; the nondriv- ing member of a team can recognize how the driver may be distracted. Automatic video monitoring is of high interest, with one fleet recently starting a pilot program advocated by its insur- ance company. Several managers noted that these systems help to enforce compliance and augment their ride-along observa- tions; some barriers reported were shipper prohibitions to hav- ing any cameras enter their facilities, as well as cost.
37 Fleet managers relayed their concerns about driver-installed electronics, such as satellite radio or navigation systems, noting that a company installation approach was viewed as being safer. Cell phone lock-out devices now being offered by some vendors were of interest for some, but none of the interviewees are currently using such devices. Concerns were expressed as to cost and modifying a personal item of the employee (the cell phone could be damaged). Two managers use performance bonuses to encourage compliance with distraction policies. For one fleet, infrac- tions relating to hard braking, traffic tickets, etc., affect the driverâs safety bonus; if there is a safety incident in the areas of safe driving, safe loading, or unloading, the quarterly bonus is decremented. In another fleet, every driver takes a battery of tests each month and a performance bonus is paid if they complete all testing correctly. Effective hiring is a priority and was addressed in the interviews by several managers. One noted that they screen thoroughly, and go a step farther to identify any traffic ticket or crash problems, and will not hire people if this is the case. Driver Acceptance As to driver acceptance, one opinion voiced was that gener- ally there is always resistance to putting new things in place, but over time drivers will accept them. The most significant issues have arisen regarding automatic video monitoring. Although these systems only record based on trigger events, the perception can persist among drivers that they are being constantly watched. One manager views these driver mis- conceptions as âa fact of life.â From a broader perspective, one manager noted that pub- lic awareness plays an important role: âthe more public opin- ion is involved and in favor of what we are saying, the easier it is to get drivers in line.â For example, his fleet has not had driver resistance to seat belt policies owing to broad public compliance, but finds support for sleep apnea programs chal- lenging because there is not as much public visibility. When it comes to cell phones, he believes public information and attitudes also help. Another helpful technique mentioned was to teach a driverâs family members about distraction and other safety issues by sending the company newsletter to the driverâs home. Benchmarks Vehicle electronics provide for information on hard braking events and, for some fleets, roll stability and lane departure events. Although these data are useful when assessing safety performance (one company has documented a 75% reduction in hard braking events), it is generally not seen by the group as directly addressing distracted driving; video monitoring is viewed as the better tool for this. The overall fleet crash rate was frequently cited as their key measure of effectiveness. Carriers examine accident type to assess the potential for a distraction component in a crashâ striking vehicle ahead, run-off-road, and intersection crashes are seen as relevant to distraction. When asked, interviewees did not observe an increase in crashes based on cell phone use; instead, crashes are down. One safety manager noted that, generally, he cannot tie any increase in crash involvement to the cell phone. Additional Comments Some respondents commented on the government role, with some believing that the government could do more, others less. The view of those seeking less government was expressed as âtell us what the rules are and then let us do our job.â Those advocating a strong government role sought greater clarity in defining the driver distraction situation, greater and more con- sistent enforcement of existing laws, making cell phone use a primary (rather than secondary) offense where it is illegal, and a federal ban on cell phone use for commercial drivers. To this latter point, a useful story was relayed by one safety manager. He had a long discussion with their operations depart- ment when they were working with a customer who wanted to use push-to-talk units to change destinations in real time. This conversation delved into whether it was legal to use cell phones in certain areas, and whether this would be a distraction for the driver. In a such a case, it would have been easier to respond to the customer by saying, âno, this is illegal due to federal law.â Without these absolutes, they can lose a customer, he said. In this particular case, they agreed to carry the push-to-talk units, with the caveat that the driver would not respond immediately to âpingsâ and instead pull off the road to respond. As a final point, it was noted that it is difficult to place strong prohibitions on CMV drivers alone and not the general publicâif distraction is dangerous for any driver it is dan- gerous for every driver.