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January 15, 2014
Think outside the text message: Are these distractions affecting your drivers?

By now, your drivers should know: Don’t text and drive. Texting is more dangerous than drunk driving. Put the phone away when you’re behind the wheel.

But even if the “Don’t text while you’re driving” message has sunk in, it may not be enough to keep your drivers focused on the road. It seems we’re inventing new ways to distract ourselves almost daily. Here are some emerging driver distractions you need to address with your employees.

An urgent message for your drivers

Warn your drivers about these new driving-related dangers:

Driver “selfies.” Yes, taking self-portraits with cell phone cameras is a trend, especially among younger drivers—and motorcycle riders and even pilots. (“Selfie” was actually the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2013. That’s how common this type of photography has become.)

And they’re not necessarily snapping these shots while the vehicle is stopped. Worse, these aren’t always still photos—you can find 6-second Vine videos and 15-second Twitter videos of drivers operating their vehicles, too. There’s no hard data yet on how dangerous the practice may be, but do you really need it?

Web surfing. Even the most antiquated flip phone can send text messages and take pictures, but the latest and greatest handheld phones—smartphones—offer an even broader range of dumb things to do while driving.

Thanks to smartphones, web surfing while driving is on the rise, according to an annual survey conducted by State Farm Insurance. This practice affects even older drivers who might be less prone to snap a selfie. Older drivers trying to get in on the latest trends may need reminding: The time to find out whether tickets are still available for that Black Sabbath reunion tour is before or after you get out of the car.

Google Glass. On October 30, 2013, Californian Cecilia Abadie became the first person ticketed for using Google’s eyeglass-mounted computer display while driving. She was one of 10,000 people who received the glasses as part of an early trial program; the glasses are expected to become widely available this year.

The officer who stopped Abadie for speeding issued a secondary citation for “distracted driving” based on the transparent, thumbnail-sized display. Specifically, the citation was for violating California’s law against driving with a video signal in view. Abadie has pleaded not guilty to the violation, arguing that the display activated when she looked up at the officer but was not active while she drove.

Voice-controlled “infotainment” systems. Automakers are increasingly making information and entertainment apps like Google, Siri, Facebook, and Pandora available to drivers using voice-activated technology.

Automakers claim the technology is seamless, intuitive, and safe, but some transportation experts, including former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, disagree. A study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2013 found that this technology creates a level of driver impairment comparable to drunk driving. But more than half of all new cars are expected to have this technology by 2019.

Can technology heal itself?

As electronic distractions proliferate, automakers are trying to head off concerns about safety, in some cases by making cars smarter using technology known as “crash avoidance technology.” It’s designed to monitor and identify behaviors like lane drifting and following too closely and alert drivers when their behavior puts them in danger. For example, Ford’s Driver Alert system, which attempts to identify and respond to driver drowsiness, debuted in 2012.

So when you’re looking for company cars, it might be wise to look for these increasingly available driver safety technologies, and skip the driver entertainment doodads.

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