Del Lisk is vice president of safety services for DriveCam, Inc. in San Diego, CA. In this interview, Lisk discusses how distracted driving has affected fleet safety and explains how technology-based monitoring tools can help reduce or eliminate distractions among fleet and commercial drivers.
Please provide a brief description of your professional background and of your position as vice president of safety services for DriveCam, Inc.
I spent 21 years with Smith System Driver Improvement Institute, which provides professional driver training. In my last 6 years, I served as company president. While at Smith, I helped build the company into an organization delivering more than 6,000 training sessions each year and providing driver training courses to large fleet operators, such as FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson and Exxon/Mobil.
I joined DriveCam in 2003. As vice president of safety services, I lead efforts in several areas, including:
How has distracted driving affected fleet safety? What are the most common driving distractions among fleet and commercial vehicle drivers?
I have been in fleet safety since 1982 and have been out on the road with thousands of drivers. Distracted driving has always been a problem, but it has gotten worse. Prior to the onslaught of mobile technologies, the most common distractions I would see from drivers were things like map reading, talking with passengers or personal grooming.
The good news is that map reading has been mostly displaced by GPS devices. That is a good thing as long as the driver punches in the location before moving.
The big game changer is cell phones. Something that was nonexistent in the 1980s and rare in the 1990s is now commonplace. Cell phone use is the most common distraction we see with our fleet and commercial vehicle drivers, but the degree at which it occurs really varies among industries.
For example, we see just a few of these incidents with our transit clients. Most transit fleets have a zero-tolerance policy regarding cell phone use and driving, so drivers do pretty well because they do not want to lose their jobs. This is also somewhat true with heavy truck operators. It is different with some of our service fleets. In several cases, cell phones are a means of communication for their business, so we see much more with them. In general, cell phone policy with these fleets is less rigid.
Based on your experience with DriveCam, what is the rate of cell phone use and texting among fleet and commercial vehicle drivers?
Over the past year, we had 49,000 client events identified with a distraction. The categories we code are cell phones, electronic device, food or drink, other communication device and passenger. We also differentiate these by which actually resulted in a risky event or was simply a distracting activity that did not result in a risky situation. Table 1 shows that handheld cell phones are the most frequent problem.
Table 1. Number of DriveCam client events associated with distractions.
How does DriveCam’s in-cab vehicle monitoring work, and in what ways has it helped reduce or eliminate distractions among fleet and commercial drivers?
The DriveCam video event recorder (VER) is placed in a nonobstructive location on a vehicle’s windshield. It is dual lens—one view forward in front of the vehicle and another lens that captures a view of the driver and what is happening inside the cab.
VER constantly records but does not save anything until the vehicle experiences a force that exceeds the settings on the camera. Typical triggering events are hard braking, swerving or a collision. Once an event is triggered, VER records the critical seconds before and after a risky driving event, including views of both the road ahead and the driver.
The video is uploaded via the cellular network to DriveCam’s risk analysis center where our trained professionals analyze the events to determine risk. Most of the events reviewed are not of concern. They are marked as resolved, which means no further action is necessary. About 10% of the events are concerning and are assigned for coaching. If an event requires coaching, a company supervisor will meet with the driver in the event. During this meeting, the supervisor and driver view the video and discuss what the risks were and what must change in the future to reduce the risk. The driver then returns to the field to apply the lessons learned.
As it pertains to distractions, we have seen a 90% reduction in distracted driving incidents once a driver receives coaching. With video, it is easy to identify the source of the distraction and thus easy for supervisors to successfully coach and take corrective measures. Graph 1 shows the results.
Graph 1. Frequency drop in distracted driving (first coach date).
You are responsible for developing safety policies and procedures and for overseeing training for DriveCam’s fleet customers. On what research are safety policies and procedures based? How is training customized to meet fleet customers’ specific needs?
I provide guidance to clients as to what they should focus on to ensure that driving behavior improves. Most of this guidance is based on what we have learned from analyzing more than 15,000,000 risky driving events.
I want to be sure clients focus on material risk, not on issues that do not meaningfully contribute to reducing collision potential. For example, many of our clients train their drivers to maintain a 4-second following distance. I support that, but I also have some unique learnings from 6 years at DriveCam and the review of video of hundreds of rear-end collisions. I have found that almost half of the rear-end collisions we see involve the trailing vehicle maintaining less than a 2-second following distance. Only 17% of the rear-enders involved the trailing vehicle with a following distance of greater than 2 seconds. (In the rest of the rear-end crashes, the lead vehicle was already stopped. Following distance had nothing to do with the crash).
In this example, I am not suggesting that clients give up promoting a 4-second following distance. However, their coaching and training efforts should be directed to the drivers continually following at less than 2 seconds. That is where they will get the most impact from their efforts.
You also administer the DriveCam certification program and direct the DriveCam Academy. How will certification and course requirements change in light of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent federal ban on texting for commercial truck and bus drivers?
Not a lot. We have already been concerned about texting and consequently put much attention to the issue. I will probably add more to the education piece. Even with federal law and client policy in place, it stills comes down to a driver deciding to change. Educating drivers on the risks of texting is an important step in guiding them to making the right personal decision.
In your opinion, how can employers best enforce this ban among their fleet and commercial drivers? Do you believe the ban and its civil/criminal penalties will be effective in the long run?
In the words of U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood, “You can’t legislate behavior.” Law enforcement and penalties will impact some but not all. Take seatbelts for example. Many states have long had laws requiring the use of seatbelts. Has that really driven an increase in seatbelt use? Unlikely. What has driven improvement in seatbelt compliance among fleet operators has been education on the benefits, clear policy and monitoring for compliance. Even with that, new DriveCam clients are commonly shocked to find much lower seatbelt compliance than they had thought. Fortunately, the problem is fixed quickly with the presence of video and subsequent coaching.
This will be the same with the texting ban for employers. Laws may persuade some drivers to stop their texting ways, but it will come down to effective education to motivate drivers to decide to change and monitoring for compliance. It is impractical to follow drivers out on the road to verify they are not texting while driving so technology-based monitoring tools, such as DriveCam, will play an important role for many fleets. There will also be technologies in use to block cell phone use/texting while a vehicle is in motion.
Despite the federal ban on texting and other measures to curb distracted driving, do you believe new driver distractions will emerge as wireless technologies change?
Absolutely. The wireless industry with the help of Internet connectivity will continue to add new functionalities on their devices, such as viewing television shows, turning home appliances on, booking travel, etc. There may be laws against this, but each new function adds one more temptation for drivers to put their attention to the wrong thing while driving.
What are DriveCam’s goals for the remainder of the year?
We will continue to focus on helping our clients more effectively apply our driver risk management program so they will maximize results. To do this, we will focus on two general areas: technology and training.
On the technology side, we continue to improve DriveCam’s reporting tools, such as dashboards and alerts. Our clients must have quick, clear, visibility into who their riskiest drivers are and why. They must also be able to identify who their safest drivers are so positive reinforcement can take place.
On the training side, we help our clients learn more about getting the most out of the program. Some of the training topics include how to effectively coach drivers, understanding the DriveCam driver risk scoring system and industry-specific training programs.
Prior to joining DriveCam, Lisk spent 21 years with Smith System Driver Improvement Institute. He served 6 years as company president and transitioned the company from a private business to a subsidiary of a large insurance company. While at Smith System, Lisk developed fleet safety programs and personally delivered training to more than 10,000 fleet drivers.
Lisk moved to DriveCam in 2003, where he has helped build the risk analysis scoring system and processes DriveCam uses to review video. He also develops training programs to ensure that deploying clients use best practices to maximize benefits.
A fleet safety expert, Lisk has spoken at ASSE, National Safety Council (NSC), Public Risk Management Association and Risk Management Insurance Society conferences and meetings. He has also appeared on The Discovery Channel, Good Morning America, 20-20 and PBS in shows focused on traffic safety.
Lisk actively participates in several national safety organizations, including ASSE and NSC, and works with several national government agencies, including Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. He is also a member of ASSE’s Z15 Accredited Standards Committee on Motor Vehicle Fleet Operations.