We have all seen examples of distracted drivers — reading the newspaper while driving, putting on makeup or talking on a cell phone. Carnegie Mellon University scientists, as reported in the journal “Brain Research” by Dr. Marcel Just and colleagues, have concluded that we cannot converse on cell phones without distracting our brains from the task of driving. Scientists determined that the amount of brain activity allocated to visual processing tasks decreases by nearly 30 percent when a person is listening on a cell phone. Other research suggests that driving while talking on a phone reduces situational awareness equivalent to driving while impaired.
There is no denying that using a cell phone while driving diverts our attention, yet this is just one of many activities that can distract a driver. Managing distractions becomes even more of a critical safety issue when a driver is in control of a 40,000-pound bus with up to 40 passengers. Metro Transit in Minnesota is committed to interacting safely with other drivers whileproviding our customers with a safe ride and that is why it developed a program to help its operators stay focused on driving and to help control all their distractions.
Producing a Video
In 2004, the problem of distracted driving was forced into the spotlight for Metro Transit. While investigating a bus collision with a cyclist, it was learned that the bus operator was using a cell phone. Although the concern was growing in regard to cell phone use, this incident prompted the agency to study all policies and procedures related to distracted driving. Consequently, the innovative approach was to use education and measured enforcement to reduce accidents caused by all types of distracted driving.
The Safety Department’s education efforts started by researching what resources were available on distracted driving. They found several options related to defensive driving, but distracted driving was a relatively new issue and they found only one training video focused exclusively on this topic. Ultimately, they used an existing video that focused on distracted drivers and then modified it with additional footage and dialogue to make it relevant and specific to Metro Transit bus operators.
In order to leverage its limited resources, Metro Transit collaborated with Aurora Pictures in Minneapolis to modify an existing training video on distracted driving. The agency spent $13,000 on all production costs, saving between $25,000 and $30,000 to produce a new video. The video produced was professional and dramatic.
On a larger scale, the effort represents a new focus for training within a transit agency. Distracted driving is not just about using cell phones; it includes a wide range of issues. Metro Transit incorporated the science from Carnegie Mellon and changed its procedures for radio use on buses, which is described in the video.
Although the video was specific for Metro Transit equipment and operations, it provided advice to the producers on how to make a generic public transit version. In the generic transit version Aurora Pictures produced, the same issues are discussed and viewers are encouraged to refer to their own company policy. Any agency could purchase this video or modify it to meet its own goals. If another transit agency combined this video with enforcement and other education strategies, the agency could see the same success Metro Transit did.
The video was shown to all operators during Metro Transit’s 2005 Right to Know annual training. The agency supported the initial roll out of the video with flyers and posters. In addition, it partnered with Minnesota Safety Council to provide public outreach ads on the backs of buses. It also asked operators to sign a pledge that they would not drive distracted. The video is now part of new operator training.