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The issue of "distracted driving" has come to the forefront, with a rash of new devices that compromise the ability of drivers to keep their attention on the road. Shepard has studied the commercial aspect of the growing use of cell phones, PDAs, GPS and mapping technology in vehicles. His work with remote-sensing technology has revealed the "huge benefits" that a data-driven approach can deliver, in measuring and improving driver behavior.
New technologies are available that can measure elements such as the number of hard-braking events and rapid accelerations per hour, as well as vehicle speed. The data that emerges from those results can be worked into a scorecard which helps to improve driver behavior on a week-by-week basis. It also shows how individual drivers are performing relative to their peers.
The aim isn't to punish drivers; it's to make them aware of the danger of distractions and promote safety, Shepard says. The idea is to motivate them to develop better habits, including the use of defense-driving techniques.
Shepard's work comes at a time when potential distractions are greater than ever before. Vehicle dashboards are growing more complex, he notes, crammed with technology such as satellite navigation, detailed maps and automated directions. The trend, he adds, "seems to be going the wrong way."
Fortunately, technology to monitor driver behavior is becoming more affordable. Just a few years ago, only the largest companies could manage the cost of rudimentary GPS systems. "Now you see technologies packaged in virtually plug-in environments, where all this other functionality can be added." The new features allow a company to work with employees to set goals, measure progress and establish accountability for improvement. "This has enabled a whole new solution set that hasn't been possible before," Shepard says.
He urges companies not to get too fixated on the technology, at the expense of the ultimate goal: "To reduce accidents, improve safety and make it more likely that employees are going to get home safely every night."
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