-  Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates Inc.

Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates Inc.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Distracted driving is generally accepted to mean engaging in an action or mental activity that takes a driver's focus from the roadway.

A survey conducted by the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights in March of 2023 found that 28 percent of safety leaders of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) fleets listed distracted driving as one of their top three challenges.

One way to reduce distracted driving is ongoing motor vehicle record (MVR) monitoring and the timely coaching of drivers. An MVR is a snapshot of a driver's license status and driving history at one point in time. Ongoing MVR monitoring updates carriers as soon as a licensing authority's record reflects the change.

To better appreciate the value of an ongoing MVR monitoring program, let's address three fundamental questions:

  1. When are interstate CMV drivers required to report violations or loss of license privileges to their carriers?

Drivers must notify carriers only in these circumstances:

  • Convictions for moving violations — within 30 days (CDL-vehicle drivers).
  • Any loss of driving privileges — by the close of business the day after the driver is notified (CDL and non-CDL drivers).

If drivers do not notify their carriers, this blind spot increases potential risk and liability.

  1. How often are carriers required to pull and review MVRs?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) require interstate carriers, at a minimum, to review commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver motor vehicle records (MVRs):

  • At the time of hire; and
  • At least annually after that, which creates another blind spot for changes to the driver's record in the coming 12 months.
  1. What are the risks of annual MVRs?

When MVRs are pulled only once in 12 months, this increases the chance of:

  • A negligent retention or supervision claim if distracted driving or other unsafe behaviors are not corrected and the driver is then involved in a crash;
  • Out-of-service violations and stranded equipment;
  • Undetected license suspensions due to:
    • Maximum point accumulation for unsafe driving violations;
    • Administrative reasons, such as failure to pay child support; and
    • Medical certification expiration (CDL drivers).

Ongoing MVR monitoring overview

Carriers can request full MVRs more often or use MVR monitoring to receive timely notifications, which can trigger immediate corrective action.

Ongoing MVR monitoring, available from most licensing authorities, can meet the annual MVR and annual review requirement in section 391.25 of the FMCSRs.

There are two basic options for MVR monitoring.

  1. Work with a third party that offers these services:

  • Collect driver consent forms to participate in the monitoring program.
  • Audit MVRs and research when complex state information requires clarification.
  • Score MVRs to rate the driver's history for risk.
  • Immediate carrier contact upon state notification if a license is suspended, revoked, or canceled.
  • Management of corrective action training due to an adverse event.
  1. Self-serve alert systems:

  • A push system sends out an alert whenever the driver's record changes, or
  • A self-serve pull system allows users to check the driver's record as needed.

These self-serve options can be time-consuming and require relationships with each state.

Identify high-risk drivers much sooner

MVR monitoring reduces risk and potential liability with timely notification of events, especially those indicative of distracted driving.

American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) 2022 Predicting Truck Crash Involvement study determined the probability of having a DOT-recordable crash if a driver received a violation for or was convicted of certain unsafe driving acts. Several of these convictions/violations were indicative of distracted driving, which included but was not limited to:

Driver Behavior                                                Future Crash Likelihood Increase

Failure to obey traffic sign                                                            85%

Failure to keep proper lane                                                          78%

Improper or erratic lane changes                                               77%

Careless or inattentive driving                                                    62%

Following too close                                                                          44%

 

Handheld cell phone use can cause many violations that increase crash risk and reached number 20 on the list of driver roadside inspection violations from 2020 to 2024 year to date.

Policies should require corrective action

Carriers should have a corrective action policy and a coaching and training program.

Two key points are:

  1. Policies are ineffective if drivers are unclear about carrier expectations and the consequences of their unsafe actions.
  2. Policies should require coaching, refresher training, or other actions with the intent of performance improvement and retention. The consequences don't always have to be the threat of termination.

When is coaching appropriate?

When a motor carrier learns of an unsafe driving practice, coach the driver as soon as possible so it doesn't become a pattern.

In addition to coaching sessions, access to a driver training delivered online or in-person (if staffed sufficiently) is essential. Examples of training topics include defensive driving, avoiding distracted driving, speed and space management, and the like.

Set a goal or goals during a coaching session, such as being violation-free or completing training on topics related to the violation. Goal setting helps eliminate repeat behaviors. Remind drivers of the company's policy and the desire to retain the driver. Coaching often leads to a higher caliber driver and reinforces the company's safety culture.

When coaching is not enough:

  • If a driver develops a willful pattern of unsafe driving, the driver may need formal discipline.
  • Depending on the progressive discipline policy, the consequences may involve:
    • A warning letter in the driver's file,
    • Suspension, or
    • Termination.

In closing

MVR monitoring is an investment in improving a carrier's safety culture. If carried out properly, the corrective action and training after timely MVR updates changes behavior and challenges drivers to improve. The positive outcomes for the driver and company should be a long-term driving career and a lower risk of crashes and violations.