We’re addicted. The fear of missing out is making us miss the point…and the lights. For Jerome Carslake, giving up is not in the policy.
WORDS JEROME CARSLAKE / SCOTT MURRAY
It’s a cold wet day; you’re doing the daily commute with a coffee in one hand, and your fix in the other, because you ‘haven’t woken up yet’. Or maybe you’re enjoying a cold drink, anxiously watching watching the grand final with your mates and the kids, a BBQ sizzles on the verandah but you forgot the ice. You slide one out of your pocket, flick with your thumb and light up. It’s the daily habit. Everybody’s doing it and the fact is it’s treacherous. Not smoking, either.
The National Road Safety Partnership Program (NRSPP) has launched a program called the Safe Use of Mobiles in Vehicles (SUMV). It’s a policy guide designed to help corporations, business big or small and community organisations develop their own policy around how to use a mobile phone safely, especially in the vehicle-based work place.
Going back a step, the NRSPP was launched on the 5th of May 2014 at the RACV club in Melbourne, by Prince Michael of Kent, patron for Global Road Safety. The day after the launch, one of our steering committee partners was given a call. On the Peak Downs Highway in central Queensland, with a beautiful sunrise, a young driver they knew took a ‘selfie’ while driving along and was uploading to social media. Looking down, they had a fatal head-on collision with a fuel tanker.
It’s a series of questions that keeps popping up – What can we do? How can we change this? What leadership role can the businesses take? We had to get the right people to help spread the message.
The first key foundation stone really was recognising drivers need to be empowered, informed of the risk, and provided with the facts and a vision which becomes the solution. This came through NRSPP’s first program partner the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) whose action was the development of a Thought Leadership Piece around common sense evidence-based principles on how to use mobile phones. They weren’t going for the straight ban, which research suggests doesn’t work. They were on the same level as us.
So in 2015 at the Victorian Towards Zero Leadership Symposium, NRSPP launched a new safe vehicle purchasing guide with a risk-based approach. It didn’t mean just buying a five-star car, it was about buying the safest vehicle for what you need with all of the latest technology, and to train drivers how to use it. Part of the launch of the guide was a supporting business-to-business (B2B) video which IAG had led the development of.
Attending the launch were several NRSPP partners including the major telcos and AMTA and it was there the penny dropped for that sector. They saw how, through those leadership organisations talking about safer vehicles and why it matters to businesses and the community, large organisations and whole sectors could collaborate to encourage change. They sat there and said, ‘We get this and we understand how it (road safety and big business) needs to be addressed’. They also realised sending a strong road safety message had even bigger legs if it was off their own bat and people could see it was the telco sector pushing the message. We said to everybody, ‘we can’t do this alone’. I’m glad to say we got the support we needed. It was from here we were able to build SUMV with the right partners who wanted to demonstrate collaborative leadership in reducing the risk around using mobile phones in vehicles. IAG, TAC, RACV, the telcos all came on board at that symposium. In developing SUMV a crucial credible stakeholder was the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) who held a ‘Fatal Distractions’ symposium where the principles were presented, the research considered and the cost both in financial and humane were outlined. For surgeons, they want to be out of the road trauma business because it equates to approximately 60 to 70 per cent of the people who land on their emergency tables. The impact is staggering. We managed to rally them to the SUMV with the Trauma Committee endorsing the approach.
From the inception of SUMV every partner has brought value. They have taken an active role drawing on their individual expertise. For example, IAG included SUMV as part of their Tool-of-Trade (ToT) day, gathering lots of feedback and energy from them and their networks. The development of the guide has been tested and sound boarded with a range of industry leaders, each adding their valuable insights. What we found is nobody was aware there was something to be said for the ergonomics of how we connect with vehicles and the subsequent level of safety. These kinds of questions are part of the SUMV policy guide.
Understanding what’s going on, asking how the organisation can help mitigate risk, assessing how the vehicles are being used, surveying people on what they want, how they use it, what’s being missed and whether they’re aware of the risks of phone use while driving.
It’s about looking at work practices, the ones that managers will grit their teeth about. Does our work policy encourage and heighten the risk we put on drivers, clients or customers? We had to create a baseline, to understand what’s going on. In some cases employers were grilling staff when they were doing the right thing and ignoring a call. Then we use that information to show leaders what’s happening. The SUMV guide provides tools on initiating solutions for those risks.
Understanding the broader contexts, like weather, workload, fatigue and stress, connectivity, necessity to call, how to mitigate risks like pulling over help paint the picture. There are examples of misinterpreting guidelines like ‘pulling over’ where people have done so across several lanes of traffic, or stopped in the middle of a freeway and in fact made the risks even worse.
The policy guide is a template for a policy. We’ve added a more powerful element focusing on arriving at the end of the journey. It’s about gathering data and information and having that internal conversation, with material provided, to facilitate safer use of phones going forward.
Once you get employees in the room and talk about what happens when things go pear-shaped, helping management realise this is their brand, their company and their people on the line here, they’ll realise something needs to be done. Every organisation and business is different, just like their people. But the risks don’t discriminate, as our personal example denoted earlier.
It’s about treating an addiction. That was one of the questions raised by the surgeons’ discussion, ‘How do you treat this addiction, where everybody needs to be connected, all the time?’ I sit here at Telstra on George Street in the Sydney CBD watching all these people walking around me on their phone. You can see it everywhere. The stop lights change and people go on their phones, not comfortable with a moment of silence, the light goes green and off they go again. Some don’t, mind you but they are in the minority – people want to be busily connected.
We’re at a point where this needs to be taken seriously. It’s really hard to go to the root cause of a crash unless it’s blatantly caught in the act. All businesses have the power to encourage massive change, much faster and more proactively than government, and we’re asking all organisations to do what they can do to help. Everybody needs to step up and help. Fleet managers are busy enough just trying to keep their fleets running, let alone having to deal with this epidemic. But looking further up the ladder can help. The knock-on effects are many because most congestion is because of an accident – reducing that helps us get from A to B more efficiently.
We’ve spoken to so many big businesses who are saying it’s too hard or have tried introducing a ban policy. But then their senior executives will admit to using their phones while driving. Presenting them with a common-sense approach, backed up by evidence, businesses will sit-up and pay attention. Insurers have been trying for ages to get traction with this, but again, more peers taking action will have a positive knock-on effect.
Safety can be built into contract requirements, so it becomes an expectation. When big business or governments are looking around for the best price, or the fastest turn-around time, they should also be looking at who’s going to do the job the safest. A good start would be asking ‘Does their fleet have a safe use of mobile phones policy for their vehicular workplaces?’ followed by ‘Do they have a Safe Fleet Purchasing Policy?’
There are a couple of companies I know which were doing some mega projects and their budgets blew out by 10 or 15 per cent in a $1.5billion dollar project, which they attributed to road safety. This is because if something happens on site or out on the road there is a ripple effect due to parts being delayed or the site shut down.
Companies should be using it as an incentive, it’s something to sell on, that they do things the safest, saving clients’ money in potential risk. It’s something worth bragging about.
Automakers have a role to play too. They provide mobility from A to B, but now some vehicles are also becoming a connectivity platform, which is all good, except a model or update comes out which hyper-connects people with their phones. The car becomes the phone with email, text messaging, social media all proudly useable on the car’s dash – I have no idea where the law sits on this. For the manufacturer are they willing to put their own employees in those vehicles as a workplace? If not, why aren’t they? Are they selling something to the consumer that they don’t want to affect their brand internally? If it’s not a safe workplace, why is it okay to sell it to the public? If you put a SUMV policy in place based on our guideline, you wouldn’t be able to have those text message-reading or web-browsing/social media functions because it doesn’t create a safe workplace.
Hopefully your drivers will never be in a car crash. But if they are and they have safety assist technology, they might be able to walk away. Building structures into your policy creates a safety framework. If you don’t have that safety technology, those staff may not come back to work and questions start getting asked. Raising the standards means a vehicle flows out into the second-hand market that protects someone else again. That’s something to be proud of, giving back. What a great message to send for that extra couple of grand.
When it’s all said and done, banning mobile phone use doesn’t work. Prohibition, smoking, you name it, people switch off when you ban things and you get the opposite effect. Lots of voices are saying ‘just ban it’, but it’s just an uninformed view. We need to empower people, educate people, treat them as mature enough to make smart choices and not create that ‘nanny state’ divergence. It might be as simple as throwing the phone in the boot when you feel overwhelmed.
We know smoking is bad for us and people are butting out in droves, not because of a ban, but from information. Giving people the tools to inform, creates change and increases the likelihood you make it to work, or that bag of ice does make it into the eski.