Last October, NAFA Fleet Management Association took a stance on the issue of distracted driving. They adopted a no-tolerance policy towards distracted driving by recommending that their members prohibit the use of electronic devices for drivers, both handheld and hands-free. We spoke with Phil Russo, the CEO of NAFA Fleet Management Association to discuss the new policy, the reasoning behind the policy, and his thoughts on the distracted driving epidemic:
What is NAFA Fleet Management Association and what authority does it have in the fleet industry?
NAFA Fleet Management is to the fleet management profession what the American Medical Association is the the medical profession. The American Medical Association deals with every form of doctor and is an education and training resource for doctors. That’s kind of what NAFA is in its field. NAFA is an individual membership organization, a not-for-profit organization that provides training, education, resources, representation, and networking to individuals who manage corporate, government, university, and utility fleets—any form of fleet, any form of vehicle that rides on the road that either delivers people or goods or that provides some sort of a service. Any kind of vehicle that’s out there, whether it’s the Federal Express vans that are out there, the FedEx fleet managers are members of NAFA, the Johnson & Johnson’s of the world, the large corporations that have executive fleets and that have sales fleets and that have delivery fleets, those folks are members, as are the government fleets, the fleets that are out there with the little stickers on the window that say ‘This vehicle is for official use only”, those vehicles are fleet and the fleet manager joins NAFA. The state police, all the police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, all of the people that manage those fleets are members of NAFA and come to us for training, education, resources, lobbying efforts, networking, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re here for.
What inspired you to adopt this no tolerance policy for NAFA?
By virtue of who we are, there was an absolute sentiment by the board of trustees, that it is what we needed to do. It is our position, it’s our right, it’s our duty to do that, by virtue of the fact that our members control so many vehicles that are on the road. About ⅓ of the sales from the Detroit Three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) are for fleet use in one way, shape, or form. So you could extrapolate from that and say our members control ⅓ of the vehicles that are out there on the road; ⅓ of the drivers that are out there are in a vehicle that is provided by our members. Because of this we’re in a uniquely, wonderfully, amazing position to influence the habits of our members and therefore influence the habits of ⅓ of the drivers, technically speaking, that are out there on the roads. We felt that we were in a really great position to have a positive impact on this dire situation that we had the obligation to do so. We have to uphold the highest standards and the best practices.
Is ‘epidemic’ an accurate term for describing the issue of distracted driving?
Most certainly. It happens to me every day without fail. Every day I’m driving back and forth to work and it’s only a 15 minute drive, but there are always at least 5 people in front of me or behind me, or beside me who I pull up next to or behind and I motion to them “put down the phone, hang up the phone”. Here in New Jersey I usually get the Jersey wave back. But it’s everybody—people think they’re invincible and until it hits home with them they’re not going to get the message. What we’re trying to say to them is don’t wait until it hits home. Be safe now. You don’t want to have to be in that position, whether it’s you, or me as a 52 year old, or me as the father of a 17 year old. You don’t ever want to be in that position. It’s absolutely an epidemic, it’s happening everywhere on every street in every car with every millennial, generation x, generation y, it’s happening everywhere.
Many drivers argue that hands-free is a safe alternative to hand-held phone use while driving. What are your thoughts on this?
While NAFA has not done studies, we have been part of other studies and we have had speakers come in to educate our members at our national conference and our chapter meetings everywhere. All of the studies show that any form of device use falls in the realm of cognitive distraction. The latest figure I head was just at a Jersey chapter meeting, that distracted driving is three times more dangerous than drunk driving. If the level of drunk driving is a BAC of .08, the cognitive distraction from using even a bluetooth device is equivalent to a BAC of .23. Your reaction time is not there, your visual focus is just not there. The speaker said it narrows down your line of sight from an 80% range from left to right to about a 16% range. Your line of sight is tremendously narrowed down because your brain is engaged in conversation—you’re picturing the other person, you’re picturing the words that you’re saying, you’re engaged in that conversation and not looking around, not doing the left, center, right scan that you’re supposed to be doing.
There is no such thing as safe electronic use. I know that people have to use GPS, that’s a little bit different in that you’re not intimately interacting with that GPS device, that’s a device that’s giving you instructions, every once in awhile it’s telling you which way to go. It’s not a consistent conversation that you’re having with a person. We’ve had people say, “Well, what’s the difference in having that and having someone sitting next to you that you’re having a conversation with?” The studies show that you’re not that distracted when somebody is sitting next to you because that person is another set of eyes and ears for you.
How have your members reacted to this policy which you have adopted?
The first reaction was that they thought we were mandating that every fleet in the country do this, and so at first we got questions asking are we going to be kicked out of NAFA if we don’t adopt this? The concern is that it’s going to take some time to get through the policies, the corporate layers, etc. We said no, this is absolutely not a mandate, but this is absolutely a recommendation if you want to keep the best practices to do everything within your power to keep your drivers as safe as possible.
They reacted positively to this—there are many of them that have adopted this, there are many of them that have applauded us, and the interesting part is this actually started here internally with the staff. Where I work we have a staff of 10 or 11 people and we adopted that here based on what I heard throughout the industry, what I heard the experts talking about. When I told my board that this is what we’re doing on a staff level I said to them, “Do you think that this is something that we as an association should be adopting for our members, or at least recommending to our members?” and our board of trustees said absolutely, this is what we should be doing as an association. So there’s been nothing but full support for it and there’s been a lot of people who have cheered us on and thanked us for doing this.
I think what we have to do is educate our members about the why behind it. We try to tell them all of those numbers and arm our members with some of that information so that if they go in to get a policy changed that fight will be a little bit different or a little bit easier. We’re trying to arm them with information about the average cost of a crash and what what that would mean to your driver, or if your driver was killed what does that mean in terms of your company, in terms of liability. We put everything in that context not to scare them to death, but to paint a realistic picture of what could happen and what they could be facing, asking the question, why would you want to take any of those risks? Adopt this policy and keep your drivers as safe as possible. Tell them that if they need to take a call, if they need to respond to a text, they need to pull over into a safe spot, turn off the car, handle the call, and then get back on the road. In the scheme of life, that’s not going to take too much time, and it’s better to have them alive than to risk anything that might happen on the road.
What effect do you think NAFA’s actions will have on others?
My hope is that everyone gets this message and not just corporate America or government fleets that are members, because although fleet is ⅓, that’s still ⅔ of the population that may not have heard this message. My hope is that everyone hears this message; my hope is that everyone realizes the dangers of using a device while you’re driving and realizes the silliness of it and how unimportant that call really is. We’ve seen the impactful videos and commercials where they show half of a text because the person was in the middle of texting something and they were killed in the middle of that text, and you look at it and say, was this text really that important? That’s the message that I hope that everybody gets, that everybody puts down their devices and puts it behind them and turns it off, just puts it in the bag or the seat behind them or something while they’re driving. Nothing in that phone call can be that important.
We were at a chapter meeting last week and a man said, well, my wife is sick, she’s in and out of the hospital and there are times when I’m not home and she has to go to the hospital and I’m on the road and I have to take that call from my wife. The response from the speaker was, you have to take that call from your wife but wouldn’t your wife rather you be alive to meet her at the hospital? Wouldn’t your wife rather you pull over and call her back 15 minutes later and say I’m on my way, rather than get in an accident and be dead and not be able to be there at all? Paint in in that context—that’s kind of the message we want everyone to get.
We’re trained like Pavlov’s dog to look at these phones. It takes literally less than one second to look at your phone and be off the road, dead. That’s the powerful message that everyone needs to hear. That’s what everybody needs to know. That’s why we took this stand and that’s why this is so important.
Emily Tiberio is a student at Fordham University, majoring in New Media & Digital Design and Visual Arts. A lover of performing and eating good food, she is thankful to call both New York City and Boston home. Emily is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of FLASH Magazine, Fordham’s source for beauty, fashion, and NYC culture.