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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported there were 33,561 highway fatalities in 2012, an increase of 1,000 compared to 2011. Although highway deaths over the past five years remain at historic lows, there is concern that deaths and injuries resulting from distracted driving may be on the rise.
The NHTSA reported that 3,328 people were killed as a direct result of distracted driving in 2011, but more alarming were the estimated 421,000 people injured in distracted driving accidents, a 9% increase compared to the previous year. The agency is paying closer attention to identify distraction-related accidents and to examine trends.
As chauffeurs more often use dashboard Internet access and GPS systems plus smartphones and tablets, the odds are increasing for such technologies to interfere with safe driving. However, it’s not just high-tech gadgets and onboard screens that cause driving eyes to wander. Even simple tasks such as eating, tuning the entertainment system, or attending other gadgets can create the distractions leading to an accident.
“People think using a headset or earpiece is OK, but studies have shown that it’s not about having your hands free; it’s about your brain being distracted while talking [and] driving,” said Eli Darland, president of Rare Form Limousine, based in Bellevue, Wash., and serving the Seattle region.
Darland is a staunch advocate of assuring that chauffeurs only focus on one thing on the job — driving. In fact, when he started his company in 2006, he devised a system where chauffeurs have no pre-contact with clients via cell phones/texting, which allows them to focus on their duty behind the wheel.
“For the most part, I believe distracted driving causes accidents one way or another, and we set out to keep our chauffeurs focused on the road,” Darland said. “We set up a system where the chauffeur and client don’t communicate until they meet. We want our chauffeurs focused while driving and obeying all laws — that’s the way we operate as a company. We don’t break the law regarding use of cell phones or texting while driving.”
His system works well to maintain safety and efficiency. The only monkey wrench is when some affiliate partners want to talk to the drivers to get their locations. “Some of them have worked with unreliable affiliates before so they want to babysit and have the driver call them frequently to make sure everything is OK,” he said. “Or, one of our clients wants the driver to call him five minutes before pickup.”
Seattle operator Eli Darland is a staunch advocate of assuring that chauffeurs only focus on one thing on the job — driving.
Company policy is to not give clients the chauffeur’s phone number because the original chauffeur scheduled for the job may not be the one picking up the client due to logistical changes, Darland said.
“We don’t want people calling the drivers asking for their locations when we already know the vehicle’s location and everything is running smoothly. In fact, when we see a pattern of clients interfering and requesting drivers call them frequently or send out alerts, we will go to that client’s office and explain to them how we do business and what makes us a safe and efficient company. It’s really about educating clients to let them know we operate within the law and focus on driving and keeping distraction to a minimum.”
Regarding a strict company-wide policy using smartphones and texting while driving, Darland said, “It’s against the law, and we tell are chauffeurs we are a law-abiding company.”