The field service sector may be driving new profits these days, but service technicians behind the wheel every day won’t be driving anywhere for long if — like the rest of society — they’re equally as prone to distracted driving.
Driver distractions, such as texting and using mobile navigation, cause 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And field technicians should know the rules better than anyone. On the road for most of their working days, techs must understand that distracted driving can put them out of commission for more than a few hours, will ultimately reflect poorly on the company, and prove costly.
According to a 2009 NHTSA study (in conjunction with Virginia Tech Transportation), commercial service vehicles and trucks are more prone to the effects distracted driving; texting while operating a complicated maneuver in a service vehicle, for example, almost quadruples the chance of a crash or near-crash.
Here’s a brief refresher course on the most common driving distractions and how service managers and their field teams can significantly minimize risks by adopting a few some simple protocols:
1. Break the Text Habit Once and For All
Cell phone use adds risk to the already risky behavior of driving a service vehicle. Along with the texting risks, people behind the wheel of service vans who reach for cell phones on the road and use the dial pad to place calls are 5.9 and 6.7 times more likely to crash or get in a near-crash, respectively. True, mobile technology has aided techs in their ability to be proactive and engage with customers and dispatch, but service organizations need to clarify and enforce the limits. How? It starts with smart and clearly communicated policies about usage. Effective policies reward positive behavior — and don’t just warn about the punishments for violations. Some policies include incentives for drivers who have the best driving record each month. As Steve Teneriello at the Service Coach explains, incentive programs also help keep technicians engaged in the organization as a whole.
2. Start Best Practices with Tablets
There’s no stopping the mass adoption into mobile technologies in field service — and companies still getting by on spreadsheets and paper won’t be in business for long. That said, the tablet boom can also become a boondoggle of new road hazards.
“Adding tablets to the mix has the potential of running [crash] numbers up, if users take their eyes off the road, or take their minds off driving,” writes Stephanie Blanchard at Mobile Enterprise, adding that some high-profile companies are hedging risks with proactive safety tactics. “Sprint and Aegis teamed up to create a mobile app that prevents browsing once a vehicle is moving. Motion Computing, which provides tablet PCs to utility and field service fleets, recently launched its In-Vehicle Computing Solution. The solution has built-in safety sensors that limit device use while a vehicle is in motion. If a passenger is present, however, the optional Swingaway will allow device use.”
3. Minimize In-Vehicle Paperwork
Ideally, service technicians should manage paperwork tasks before getting behind the wheel — or save it until they return to headquarters. Companies can also adopt digital programs that allow drivers to zap their paperwork back instantly.
4. Get Smart About Eating On the Go
Techs tend to eat between one service call and the next — often when they’re behind the wheel and on the clock. Managers should initiate a conversation around this practice and set a clear policy that suits the dispatch schedule, length of shifts, and other factors. In-vehicle smoking, while rarely permitted, can also be a dangerous hazard. A number of accidents occur because drivers drop their lights or take their eyes off of the road to light up or deal with falling ashes, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles distracted driving fact sheet.