Truck Driver’s Distractions

by Fran Bernard, on Dec 13, 2023 8:50:45 AM


Distractions are everywhere. Human attention is the economy's most precious resource. Specifically, the attention people pay to their work. No matter what kind of company you own, run or work for, the employees of that company are paid for not only their skill, experience, and work, but also for their attention and creativity.

We have smartphones getting all the attention, becoming our companions, so much so that the real companion is often ignored for the virtual ones. With the boom of technology in recent years, our reliance on our mobile phones and devices has skyrocketed as an increasingly large number of applications are developed. This definitely attributes to being distracted. Distractions are directly related to the amount of pull something has on our attention.  

You can’t always avoid every single distraction, but if you’re aware of your weaknesses, you have a better chance of putting the right systems in place to reduce exposure to distractions. Turning off the notifications cuts down on the number of distractions and interruptions in our work period. 

While we might not be able to multitask, we can do two activities simultaneously if they use different parts of our brains. That’s why we can drive and listen to podcasts simultaneously and keep control of our vehicle driving. 

While going through truck driver training, students learn a lot about safety tips. Yet with so much to learn, it’s only natural to forget some of your training once you get on the road. Safety is just as important on your 1,000th trip as on your first.

Keeping safety in mind, truck driving safety topics fall into three general categories based on the three stages of any haul: pre-trip, on the road, and post-trip. 

Being a successful and safe truck driver doesn’t end when you get your CDL. It is vital, no matter where you are in your driving career, to have a “safety first and always” mindset 24/7. Refresher tips can be great reminders. 

Being a truck driver is a hard but rewarding job. When you prepare yourself ahead of every trip, you’re helping to ensure you can keep yourself and everyone on the road around you safer. 

There will always be unexpected emergencies and events, but they will be less likely to overwhelm you when you’re prepared. 

Being a truck driver is a great career for many, but being on the road more than most can put you at greater risk as well.

Whether it’s knowing what to look for when on the road or being prepared for any event, you can set yourself up for success before you get behind the wheel. Make every trip less stressful with the right knowledge and equipment.

Trucking is a vital and demanding job that requires focus. Unfortunately, many truck drivers face distractions that can lead to dangerous accidents.

Understanding what distractions cause truck drivers to crash can help.

Truck drivers spend long hours on the road, and it’s not uncommon for them to experience distractions that can lead to accidents.


Common distractions that truck drivers tend to face include:

  • Using a cellphone
  • Texting
  • Using dispatching devices
  • Changing the radio station
  • Reading
  • Eating/drinking liquids behind the wheel
  • Looking at a person outside the vehicle
  • Rubbernecking
  • Reading a billboard

Unfortunately, these distractions are significant enough that crashes have been caused by them. Anything that takes a person’s mind off the road, for even a few seconds, is enough to potentially cause a serious or fatal collision. 

Thousands of truck crashes involve distractions, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). After collecting data for three years, the two administrations found that around 11,000 truck crashes nationwide involved distractions external to the truck cab. 

Another study found that up to 80% of all truck crashes involved drivers being inattentive in some way in the three seconds before a crash, or near crash, occurred.

It’s not surprising that people get distracted. There are distractions all around them.

One way to think about distraction is to ask yourself if something is drawing your attention and taking your eyes away from the road ahead of you. If the answer is “yes,” it is probably a distraction. 

Texting while driving is illegal for CMV drivers, and texting can also be one of the most dangerous distractions in your truck. Texting takes your eyes, hands, and mind off the job of driving. In order to read or send a text message, you must look at the phone. This takes your eyes off the road. You must use the buttons on the phone to open or write a message, which takes at least one hand off the steering wheel. You must read or think about what you are going to write, which takes your mind off the road.

Based largely on a 2009 landmark study of driver distraction in trucking, FMCSA banned texting while driving for commercial drivers. This study was so compelling that President Obama issued Executive Order 13513, banning all federal employees from texting while driving on government business. 

According to the research, the top 10 distractions that increased the risk of an unsafe event or incident were:

  • Reaching for an object (4.57)
  • Reading (3.27)
  • Adjusting/monitoring devices integral to the vehicle (3.31)
  • Removing/adjusting clothes (3.01)
  • Adjusting or using an electronic device (other than an electronic dispatching device) (2.87)
  • Reaching for food or drink-related object (1.67)
  • Adjusting or using an electronic dispatching device (1.44)
  • External distraction (1.21)
  • Tobacco use (1.16)
  • Eating (1.11)
  • The tasks that decreased the risk of being in an unsafe event were talking/singing (.60) and dancing (.40)

The FMCSA has implemented strict regulations that prohibit truck drivers from texting or using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Violations can result in severe penalties, including the loss of their commercial license or heavy fines. This regulation applies to truck drivers and aims to prevent distractions that can lead to accidents on the road. 

According to a previous study by the FMCSA, (“Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operation”), commercial truckers dialing a cell phone are six times more likely to crash. Commercial truck drivers texting and driving are 23 times more likely to crash. When asked for the most serious distraction the truckers experienced, meaning which had the most dire potential or actual consequences, 71% of the truckers said using social media or surfing the net.

Although the FMCSA expressly forbids truckers from engaging in distracting activities, distracted driving remains one of the most common of truck accidents nationwide.

Distractions can take many forms, but generally fall into one of three categories:


A visual distraction is anything that takes a driver’s eyes off of the road. Glancing down to read a text message or reading a billboard are both forms of visual distraction.


A manual distraction takes a driver’s hands off of the wheel or his feet off of the pedals. Reaching into the passenger’s seat, removing a shoe, or adjusting the radio are all manual distractions, even if the driver is still watching the road. 


Anything that takes a driver’s focus from the road and necessary driving activities can be a cognitive distraction. Daydreaming, stress, thinking about a fight with a spouse, or body pain from an injury can all be cognitive distractions. 


Many activities can cause two or all three forms of distraction, making them especially dangerous to perform while driving. Texting, in particular, is a deadly activity, since it requires thought to compose a message, a driver’s eyes to read and write messages, and fingers to type a response.

The FMCSA has identified distracted driving as the number one cause of accidents for truck drivers. Distracted driving is anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel. Distractions can range from eating lunch while driving to turning out the window to stare at a billboard. But the most common form of distracted driving is cellphone usage, in particular texting while driving. 

FMCSA rules do not apply to devices used for dispatching, as long as they are used as part of the company's fleet management system and are not being used for texting. 

While using hand-held devices to call or text is expressly prohibited, using the hands-free options of these devices is usually acceptable. While state rules usually apply first, the fact that many states still haven't devised rules to address distracted driving means that the FMCSA rules apply regardless of what state you are in. 

The FMCSA thoughts on distracted driving for truck drivers ares very simple and to the point.

  • No Reaching
  • No Holding
  • No Dialing
  • No Texting
  • No Reading 

Texting, as defined in the new FMCSA regulations, "means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device." This includes pressing more than one button to initiate or terminate a call, or texting on a dispatching device. 

The FMCSA also issued a separate rule that defines using a mobile device as: Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to make a call,

dialing a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button; or reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt.

What this means for a truck driver is that, with the exception contacting law enforcement or in an emergency, texting or dialing or phone calls need to be "hands-free." Any hands-free device needs to be located in close proximity to the driver. 

This will normally involve using an earpiece-speaker phone, hands-free dialing, or hands-free mode. Hands-free generally means being able to safely activate a mobile device by touching a single button, while safely and properly seated and restrained.

The FMCSA addresses dispatching devices like this:

"texting on a dispatching device is indistinguishable from texting on another text-capable device and is therefore prohibited." 

Many trucking companies have been moving towards versions of hands-free dispatching devices (Qualcomm) for some time, and many are available with combined GPS systems. Some will only display a short message until the driver stops to read the rest, and some will just give off a beep until the truck is parked.

Drivers are technically prohibited from using hand-held devices while stopped at a traffic light, or in some other kind of traffic delay, but are allowed to use them if safely pulled over to the side of the road. 

Penalties for truck drivers caught driving while distracted can add up quickly. Drivers can be fined up to $2,750. Repeat offenses will result in the driver being disqualified or put out of service for up to 120 days. The driver's employer can be fined up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or require drivers to use hand-held devices while driving.

Violations are considered "serious traffic violations" and penalties are taken from existing FMCSA guidelines. 

Two serious traffic violations within a three-year period will get a driver disqualified for 60 days, while three violations in three years will put a driver out of service for 120 days. Additionally, drivers will be subject to hefty civil fines. 

Violations will negatively affect the employer's SMS (Safety Measurement System) ratings.

In addition to whatever the driver's employer dishes out for violating any of their particular policies on the subject, the penalties for using a hand-held device while driving many times includes termination. Most employers will have policies in line with the laws, as distracted drivers who cause a wreck while operating under the company flag are giant lawsuits waiting to happen.

There are still many states which have not, for various reasons, banned texting while driving, or even distracted driving in general. Therefore, any over-the-road driver is subject to the FMCSA distracted driving rules regardless of what state they drive out of, or are driving in. States will be required, however, to come up with their own set of compatible rules for CMV drivers and distracted driving.

There are studies that show the increased risk of mobile device use while driving.

It is estimated that a dialing or texting driver takes his eyes off of the road for between 3.8 and 4.6 seconds at a time. Not a long time, it seems, until you realize that at 55mph, the truck will travel over 300 feet which is longer than a football field.

The FMCSA commissioned a study through the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that investigated just how much the risk of safety-critical events increased with hand-held mobile use by truck drivers.

What they found was that the risk of an accident by:

  • Texting: 23.2 times as likely
  • Writing: 9.0
  • Dial Cell Phone: 5.9
  • Reach for electronic device: 6.7
  • Look at map: 7.0
  • Reach for object in vehicle: 3.1
  • Talk or listen to CB radio: 0.6
  • Talk or listen to hands-free phone: 0.4
  • No Calls, No Texting, No Tickets

As popular and invasive as cell phone use has become, CMV drivers need to know and understand the laws regarding distracted driving. Just as important, they should be practicing common sense safety procedures with their use.

So, as we all know being on the road can be dangerous. Keeping yourself as safe as possible is always the key. Safety should always be number one on your mind.

Remembering these safety tips may help:


Pre and post trip inspections. 

Defensive Driving

Defensive driving is a great tool to help yourself avoid accidents. Knowing what is going on around you at all times will help you remain in better control of your vehicle. Defensive driving is a great form of protection for yourself against other drivers, but also against changing weather and adverse road conditions. Being alert at the wheel will help keep you in the best position possible anytime you’re on the road. There are many defensive driving courses offered throughout the United States. Most truck driving schools offer them as part of their courses. 

Blind Spots

Such large vehicles, such as tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles are known to have blind spots. With such a large area, it’s tough to be able to see it all. Thankfully, additional mirrors can help minimize your blind spots. Don’t rely solely on your mirrors. Instead, utilize your windows and every line of sight you have.  


The more thoroughly you plan your trip, the more likely you are to have a successful and uneventful one. A pre-planned route can help you stay ahead of any adverse weather, road conditions, or even traffic delays. Stocking your cab with extra clothes, blankets, water, snacks, first aid items, and more can help you avoid costly stops along the way as well. 

Emergencies may arise, but when you are prepared, they can be far less detrimental to your trip. If a winter storm or other event causes you to have to stop on the side of the road for hours, trucker safety is a critical item to have addressed beforehand.  


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers and passengers who buckle up are 45% less likely to die and 50% less likely to be moderately injured in a crash. The size of the vehicle doesn’t matter, seatbelts save lives. Being a truck driver means you are on the road more than most and you should vow to keep yourself as safe as possible. 

Dash Cams

It’s no surprise that good driving habits help keep you safer on the road and dash cams can help encourage better driving habits. Dash cams are nothing new, and the advancements that have come about with them are impressive. Dependable dash cams are recommended for the safety and security of your trips. 

Proper Rest

Nothing can make up for lack of sleep. Your brain simply cannot function at its best when it hasn’t had the proper rest. You should always be alert when you’re on the road. If you start to feel drowsy, pulling over and getting rest is the smartest move to make. Truck stops and pullovers are there for a reason, never push yourself when you are tired on the road. 

Emergency Preparedness

Being prepared for being on the road is important, but so is being prepared when you are off the road unexpectedly. Emergency kits for truck drivers are highly recommended, no matter where you live.  

A basic checklist to have on hand in case of an emergency are: 

  • Water 
  • Nonperishable food 
  • First aid kit 
  • Extra clothes
  • Blankets
  • Hand and foot warmers  
  • Medications if necessary
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio 

Along with these safety tips remember, that distractions are a major issue when driving. A survey conducted with truck drivers on ways that they might help alleviate some distractions before heading out on the road would be:

  • Setting the GPS prior to driving – 59%
  • Setting the music for the entire trip before departing – 55% 

So, there are many commercial truck drivers that are taking the dangers of distracted driving to heart and taking commonsense actions to prevent some of the distractions from occurring. Stay safe!

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Topics:SafetyLife on the Road

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