The key is to know what is important and what is unimportant and what is exciting. You can’t learn everything. — Richard Feynman
What is the Important Stuff?
What is the ‘important stuff’ when driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV)?
The answers might vary — depending on who you would ask. Dispatch is concerned about timely arrivals, maintenance wants to service the vehicle at an opportune time, billing is looking for the BoLs in proper order to do their job, safety has another alert about this or that, the customer has their own set of problems (no dock, no forklift truck, nobody in shipping and receiving, no restrooms, no loading/unloading after 6AM, etc.).
The driver is not supposed to have any problems with the vehicle, road conditions, weather, traffic, roadside inspections, miscommunications or personal problems. After all, everybody else’s problems are the driver’s problem and should take priority, right?
Can You Hear Me Now?
In experiments about decision making, researchers have found out the main reason mistakes are made is not due to any internal mental process or mental miscalculation, but rather by faulty information (called “noise” or flawed inputs). Most interesting, errors are made almost exclusively due to bad sensory inputs, not how the information is processed.
In driving we know from crash data that distractions and fatigue, leading to driver error, are factors in most collisions. For example, after an initial crash, a secondary crash may occur because drivers are distracted by the first crash.
In some of the most serious crashes, Omnitracs (formally of Qualcomm) found drivers took zero evasive action when sleep impaired or driving drowsy.
Distractions lead to missed cues. A common error is the “looked but didn’t see” collision (also known as improper lookout), when a driver glances in a certain direction but fails to pick out an approaching motorcycle or vehicle. These collisions commonly occur in urban environments or at intersections where potential distractions may be greater in number than in rural environments or on less busy side roads.
What Organizations Can Do
Many times commercial drivers are exposed to training concepts about distracted driving or driving drowsy. But training rarely exposes drivers to how increased levels of distraction (the noise) can filter out critical cues leading to driving errors. Drivers cannot simultaneously safely multi-task and drive.
Secondly, the organizational safety culture needs to adopt the mindset when a driver is driving, they are driving. Drivers should not be alerted to non-essential information and/or tasks. Even hands-free electronic devices can have a certain level of distraction.
The key to safe driving is to pay attention to the important stuff while driving — and that’s driving.