National Transportation Safety Board Gives Advice on Preventing Distracted Driving

We take fleet safety seriously here at Fleetio, especially distracted driving—a leading cause of accidents that is 100 percent preventable. In fact, distracted driving is so serious that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) put it on its Most Wanted List.

We sat down with NTSB Senior Human Performance Investigator Dennis Collins to get his advice on how fleets should tackle distracted driving.

driver-on-cell-phone

Q: What’s the most common form of distracted driving?

A: Distracted driving comes in a variety of forms from food to children to cell phones. The most common form we have found through investigation is portable electronic use, primarily cell phones.

“Distracted driving comes in a variety of forms from food to children to cell phones.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

Q: What are the most effective methods for preventing distracted driving?

A: We recommend applying a three-pronged approach of education, regulation and enforcement.

  • Education - Education is at the forefront of addressing distracted driving. All involved parties—drivers, dispatchers, fleet managers—should be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and how the company wants to handle in-vehicle communication.
  • Regulation - In terms of regulations, company policies are necessary to establish a clear, uniform understanding of what the company expects and the consequences for neglecting it. At this day and age, cell phone policies are expected and essential for a safe, productive fleet. Management should create a cell phone policy and ensure all drivers sign it.

    Examples of successful company cell phone policies include:

    • Placing a ban on all cell phone use while driving (including hand-held and handsfree calls)
    • Requiring drivers to pull over to the side of the road or park before answering or returning a phone call
    • Encouraging drivers to initiate calls with dispatch once a delivery is complete and before driving rather than waiting for dispatch to call them

“At this day and age, cell phone policies are expected and essential for a safe, productive fleet.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

Enforcement - A policy is not effective unless it has some teeth to it. Drivers won’t alter their behavior based on a policy unless they respect it. So, it’s up to management to enforce their cell phone policy.

One way to do this is measuring driver phone activity with onboard cameras or driver behavior monitoring tools.

Alternatively, fleets can use a tool that limits device functionality when it detects the vehicle is in motion by blocking phone calls and notifications or disabling a laptop keyboard like for police fleets.

“Monitoring technology can positively affect behavior which positively affects safety.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

Q: Federal employees are no longer allowed to text while driving, whether in government vehicles or their personal vehicles. Do you see more national distracted driving regulations—particularly for fleets—coming in the next few years?

A: I expect government regulations to target distracted driving at the state level rather than national. Some states already have cell phone use laws and more will likely adopt some over time. Initially, state regulations may focus on certain groups, such as young adults, before including the entire population. We recommend, however, that all 50 states prohibit cell phone use while driving.

“A parallel can be tied between seat belt legislation before the 1980’s and cell phone use legislation today.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

A parallel can be tied between seat belt legislation before the 1980’s and cell phone use legislation today. Back when seat belt use wasn’t widely enforced, the safety culture shift began in the private sector with mandated company policies and eventually trickled up to government regulations. The private sector can move faster than the government. I predict something similar will happen for cell phone use laws with most enforcement starting at the company level first. We are already starting to see this now.

Q: How should fleet managers educate their drivers on distracted driving and ways to avoid distracted behaviors?

A: Using our three-pronged approach, fleet managers should start with education before creating and enforcing a cell phone policy. It’s crucial to involve the entire organization in the education development process.

As you’re educating your fleet, cater your message to your different audiences in a way that will resonate with them the most. Your drivers, dispatchers, fleet executives, etc. all have different goals and priorities, so be sure to frame your message accordingly to have the most impact.

“As you’re educating your fleet, cater your message to your different audiences in a way that will resonate with them the most.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

Understand your drivers’ daily communication routines. Ask your drivers who they need to communicate with while on the road and who can wait. If they say they must be able to contact dispatch, for example, it’s up to you to find and teach them a way to do so safely.

In order to get driver buy-in, it’s crucial for you to clearly explain why you are implementing a fleet cell phone policy. Emphasize to your drivers that this policy is not meant to penalize drivers, but to help keep them safe, prevent them from unintentionally hurting anyone else and to improve the fleet’s bottom line—which benefits everyone.

Also, if your fleet is incorporating driver monitoring tools, it can help protect drivers (and the company) in liability cases by proving that the driver was not at fault.

Q: What should be addressed in a successful cell phone use policy for commercial fleets?

A: We highly recommend a blanket ban on all cell phone use while driving except in the case of an emergency. There can be no distinction between handheld and handsfree phone calls in a fleet cell phone policy. Hands-free calls may remove the physical distraction element, but the cognitive distraction remains and is arguably more intrusive.

“There can be no distinction between handheld and handsfree phone calls in a fleet cell phone policy.”

-Dennis Collins, Senior Human Performance Investigator at NTSB

Once a clear cell phone policy is created, there must be a corporate commitment to the policy and enforcement. Everyone at the company must be held accountable and there must be clear punishments. This includes fleet managers and executives. Otherwise, drivers won’t feel obligated to follow the policy.

If a driver makes a mistake in regard to the policy, try not to immediately punish them. Instead, use it as an educational opportunity. It’s important to coach your drivers and demonstrate your concern for their well-being to instill proper driving behaviors.

Q: What is the NTSB doing to help fleets prevent distracted driving?

A: Distracted driving has been on the NTSB Most Wanted List for the past five years. When an issue is placed on the list, it raises the bar internally and externally for addressing the issue. An NTSB board member is assigned specifically to the issue and shines a spotlight on it.

The NTSB staff has been working with states to provide recommendations and advice regarding cell phone use regulations. Our staff provides model legislation, examples of other states’ success and helps develop legislation customized to the state’s specific needs.

In addition, NTSB staff conducts presentations and interviews on this issue to increase awareness about causes and dangers surrounding the issue.


Thank you to Jennifer Morrison, NTSB Investigator in Charge, for helping us set up this interview and thank you to Dennis Collins for speaking with us. We appreciate your time!

Be sure to check out the NTSB Chairman’s official blog and follow them on Twitter.

About Dennis Collins

Dennis Collins

Senior Human Performance Investigator, NTSB

Dennis has worked with the NTSB for the past 16 years and serves as a Senior Human Performance Investigator. He investigates the human factors that lead to highway accidents in the U.S. such as distraction, fatigue, training, etc. and has served as Group Chairman on a number of high profile accidents.


Jessie Robinson

Content Marketing Specialist

Jessie Robinson is a Content Marketing Specialist at Fleetio, and is passionate about the future of green transportation technology. When she isn't writing, you can find her searching for the perfect fries.

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