Pro drivers to fellow motorists: You’re annoying us with your texting
Professional drivers — the folks who deliver your packages, deliver merchandise to stores and deliver your kids to school — fear something on the road that’s far more dangerous than a pothole. They fret about the distracted driver, the one who’s blabbing on the phone or texting nonstop.
The pros’ advice to the millions of distracted drivers across the country: Put down your cell phone and put your eyes on the road.
More than 5,500 people were killed in U.S. crashes attributed to distracted driving in 2009. And a InsuranceQuotes.com poll taken in October 2010 indicates more than 90 percent of American motorists confess to some sort of distracted driving. When it comes to your auto insurance, a wreck blamed on your distracted driving could cause a significant hike in your premiums.
|FedEx driver Sean Saxon considers texting “the most common mistake” he sees being made among other motorists.|
The view from the pro driver’s seat
Steve Elliston has been a big-rig driver for more than 20 years and currently hauls merchandise for Walmart. He logs about 120,000 miles a year, and his spot-free safety record helped him win top honors for his class in the 2010 National Truck Driving Championships, organized by the American Trucking Associations. From his elevated view in the cab of his 18-wheeler, Elliston has a bird’s-eye view of what people are doing behind the wheel.
Elliston sees a lot of drivers who are texting. He also sees a lot of drivers using their phones — but not using hands-free technology.
Sean Saxon, who puts about 100,000 miles a year on a van he drives in the Phoenix area for FedEx, says texting ranks as “the most common mistake” he witnesses among drivers. Saxon won his class in the American Trucking Associations’ National Step Van Driving Championships in 2010.
Saxon says it amazes him how many drivers “get away with” texting and other distracting activities on their iPhones, BlackBerrys and other mobile devices.
But it isn’t just what motorists do while driving that Saxon views as a problem. “The biggest mistake people make is taking for granted that they’ll arrive at their destination,” Saxon says.
‘The distraction of the conversation’
As a school bus driver, Larry Hannon deals with plenty of distraction behind the wheel, with as many as 65 students on board. That hasn’t prevented Hannon from winning the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition seven times, including in 2010.
When he isn’t carting around schoolchildren, Hannon is a volunteer firefighter who drives a pumper truck for a department in eastern Pennsylvania. In addition to driving a school bus, he has another paying job as an auto body repairman, and he’s seen his share of cars damaged in accidents involving distracted driving.
|Walmart driver Steve Elliston (center) won his category in the 2010 National Truck Driving Championships.|
Hannon says it’s not the holding of a mobile device that’s the actual distraction, though. “It’s the distraction of the conversation,” he says.
When George Doganis goes to work, he’s often driving a vehicle that hasn’t even gone into production. As manager of testing operations for automotive marketer AMCI, Doganis drives about 200 vehicles a year, logging about 20,000 miles on everything from a racetrack in Spain to a freeway in Southern California. Doganis has kept his driving skills honed through competition in Sports Car Club of America Solo racing, in which he’s won six national titles, and the California Rally Series, where he has five championships. Solo and rally racing emphasize the car-control skills necessary to post the fastest times.
“In general, people don’t pay attention enough to be ready for something unexpected,” Doganis says.
Drivers must be more aware of their surroundings, he says. Doganis cites rain as one of the conditions where drivers operate closer to the limitations of their cars and skills than they realize.
As for distracted driving, Doganis says: “Drivers who are close to the limit and texting or something else who lose control have no chance to regain control.”
Changing lanes and checking your emotions
Beyond the distractions, these pros offer some tips that bear repeating, like setting aside your emotions when you get behind the wheel.
|When he’s not behind the wheel of a school bus, Larry Hannon is driving a firetruck for a volunteer fire department.|
“Emotional driving can be just as bad as distracted driving,” FedEx driver Saxon says. “If people tried to be more even-headed on the road, it would make things better.”
Drivers should be more charitable to drivers who are changing lanes, Saxon adds.
Walmart’s Elliston concurs. Drivers are “not educated on sharing the road,” especially with bigger vehicles.
“People take for granted that a commercial vehicle can stop as quickly as they can,” Saxon says.
Drivers often switch lanes right in front of trucks without considering the longer stopping distances of larger, heavier vehicles. Part of Saxon’s FedEx training emphasized looking 30 seconds ahead because of the added stopping distance of a fully loaded van. Many motorists tend to get tunnel vision, Saxon says, and would benefit by looking beyond the car directly in front of them.
School bus driver and firefighter Hannon recommends patience behind the wheel, as he witnesses too much tailgating and aggression on the road.
But even before they hit the road, motorists could do a few things to improve their safety, pro drivers say. For instance, drivers should learn how the safety systems on their cars work and how those systems feel when they’re engaged.
For instance, to see how the antilock brakes work, “drivers should simply stand on the pedal and not try to modulate the brakes,” test driver Doganis says. Many motorists never trigger the antilock or traction control systems in normal driving conditions and, therefore, may not fully appreciate how they operate in an emergency.
Doganis suggests motorists attend some sort of advanced driving school to learn about the safety systems in a controlled environment. However, he says, the existence of those safety features shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Safety systems help a lot in emergency situations, but they won’t save you from every instance,” Doganis says.