As a rule, vehicles tend not to bother their driver with too much information. Communication is kept to a minimum and only urgent information is passed on during a trip. For example, your vehicle may warn you of things that affect your safety. This could be a belt warning, doors not closed properly, low fuel or low tyre pressure.
There’s a good reason for this as up to 80% of all crashes involve some form of driver distraction. There is now so much vying for your attention and taking your focus away from the main thing you should be focusing on when behind the wheel – driving and the road ahead of you.
The dangers of cellphone usage while driving
Obviously, a major cause of distraction is the cell phone. Research shows that drivers using a hands-free or hand-held mobile phone are slower at recognising and reacting to hazards.
Consequently, drivers are four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in an injury if they use a phone. What’s more, reaction times are twice as slow if you text and drive using a hands-free phone than if you drink drive – this increases to three times as slow if you use a hand-held phone.
Another study revealed that drivers who reported frequent cell phone use drove faster, changed lanes more often and made more hard-braking manoeuvres than drivers who said they rarely used cell phones while driving.
This is why our own smartphone based solution does not interact with the driver at all whilst driving and we always recommend that the smartphone should be safely stowed out of the driver’s eyeline for the entire duration of any trip.
Distraction at the worst possible time
We find it questionable that some vehicle tracking companies offer in-trip feedback as an option. These devices provide commentary on driver performance in real-time, which at first glance may seem like a reasonable way to improve driver behaviour and reduce the risk of incidents.
However, an audio or visual alert to someone when they speed, accelerate, hard break usually occurs during or immediately after the event. The obvious danger is that it distracts someone just at the time when they are performing a potentially dangerous manoeuvre.
In-trip feedback that distracts a driver’s attention could easily prove fatal – you only have to imagine the consequences if it coincided with the sudden braking of the vehicle in front, particularly at speed, in traffic, in unfamiliar surroundings or in bad weather.
Any distraction is bad distraction
Indeed, several studies have shown that any form of distraction while driving can be dangerous – so why would IVMS alerts be any different?
Driving requires a keen focus. For example, the Washington Post has reported that “more than half of distracted driving accidents are caused by conversations with passengers.”
Another factor to consider is that in-trip feedback is often going to be negative. Studies have shown that negative feedback rarely leads to improvement. It can lead to more errors and even have a detrimental impact on mental health.
There are also criticisms that hearing a computerised or impersonal message is unlikely to land well. What’s more, it’s one-way feedback. It’s not a conversation or discussion between peers, instead it’s an automated voice, an angry beep or a determinedly flashing symbol on the dashboard.
At worst, it has the potential to be as dangerous as a back-seat driving. One study found that one in seven drivers had been involved in a accident or near-miss caused by a ‘helpful’ suggestion from someone else in the vehicle. Furthermore, 51% of survey respondents said it was the ‘top distraction’ while driving.
It goes to prove that however well-intentioned the advice, it could easily be the wrong thing at the wrong time.
There are plenty of alternative ways to intervene when it comes to giving drivers feedback to improve their behaviour on the road. At the very least, a conversation allows for any mitigating factors to be acknowledged and discussed.
Similarly, it’s important not to overlook the role that incentives and praise can play. Nor should healthy competition among drivers to see who can improve their driving be dismissed. Constructive feedback can also be given through driver-training courses, should they be felt necessary.
For all of these reasons and more, we have taken the decision not to add to the noise and the distractions. Brightmile will only provide driving feedback after a journey as our focus is on driver safety, not driver distraction.