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Distracted Driving: Nauto helps drivers stay focused

May 25, 2023
Distracted driving is rampant on the roads, even without the added difficulties of a holiday weekend. But a bit of technology can help commercial truck drivers keep everyone safe.

Holiday weekends are a gift for almost everyone – except, perhaps, for commercial vehicle drivers. According to the site DriversEd, holidays such as Memorial Day weekend are some of the most dangerous times to be on the road, due in no small part to distracted driving by both personal and commercial vehicle drivers.

“Distracted driving, in our 800 fleets that we're deployed in all across the country, Japan, and Europe, is the number one cause of collisions and injuries and fatalities,” said Dr. Stefan Heck, CEO and founder of Nauto, a fleet-management software that provides collision warnings and driver coaching. “And we see if you look at high-risk behaviors, like looking down at your phone while driving or away from the road and looking at a digital device, they are 23 times riskier than normal driving.”

Even if a distracted driving-related collision does not end in serious injury, damage to commercial vehicle front ends can take an asset off the road for several days and cost thousands of dollars.

Heck noted that most fleets Nauto works with experience six to seven distractions per moving hour, or at least one distraction every 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this impact of distracted driving on roadways is only compounded by holiday weekends.

“What happens on holiday weekends is a double effect,” Heck noted. “There are just more people on the road. And anytime you drive either further or to a place you're less familiar with because you're visiting relatives or you're going on a road trip, you're more accident prone.”

Luckily, the advancement of technology has provided drivers with multiple options to stay safe, whether installed on a driver’s personal devices or in the vehicle itself.

“There are some newer techs that basically block your phone, Apple and Android have built that in,” Heck explained. “And there are some dedicated companies that have phone app blockers.”

Read more: Product Spotlight: The latest in fleet safety technology

But, Heck added, these pieces of technology aren’t infallible, as drivers can always override their app blockers if they please, and some may automatically trigger on a train or if a driver’s in the passenger seat. Other deterrents to distracted driving, like driver-facing cameras, make some drivers feel as though their privacy is being violated, but Nauto provides another solution.

Heck explained that Nauto monitors distracted driving through computer vision.

“We look at the driver and through algorithms, not because anybody's watching," he said. "We we don't intrude on the driver’s privacy. We look at where their hands are and what they are holding in their hand.’”

Then, if the program establishes that a driver is looking at their phone and away from the road, it will gently provide auditorial feedback, allowing the driver to catch themselves and correct their behavior. As an added feature, these notifications are adjustable depending on the current risk of the driver and vehicle.

“If it's an imminent threat, let's say you're looking down and you're about to hit some vehicle or some person, [Nauto] triggers an all-out alarm,” Heck described. “It gets your attention right away and gets you to basically jam on the brakes or swerve.”

Meanwhile, if there’s no imminent risk to the driver, the program simply intervenes with a behavioral notification, and then voice coaching.

Of course, no fleet or driver wants to add another confusing notification without some guarantee of its efficacy. For Nauto, Heck argued, fleets can be confident in their solution because of its focus on precision and accuracy.

“Most of our mature algorithms are well over 99% accuracy,” Heck added. “That's not to say they never make a mistake, but they make a mistake once in 100 or 1,000 situations.”

As well as this, drivers can trust Nauto because of its dedication to providing power to the driver, protecting both their privacy and their autonomy.

“The nice thing about having it be computer vision as opposed to video, is that computer vision ignores all those embarrassing things,” Heck stated, elaborating on any cab karaoke or other behaviors a driver might prefer to be kept between them and the road. “We're really just focused on risk behavior.”

As a result of this trust, Heck elaborated, drivers most often improve their own habits.

Another benefit is Nauto's ease of installation for technicians.

“You can take any vehicle and basically add our systems,” Heck affirmed. “It takes about 20-25 minutes to install, it sits on the on the windshield and gives you protection both from collisions up ahead and, obviously, from distraction and risky behaviors.”

While many vehicles, such as GM’s Bright Drop electric delivery vans, can come with Nauto pre-installed, Heck also emphasized that retrofitting is a simple process. All a tech needs to do is utilize the device’s adhesive to stick Nauto’s sensor on the windshield, and then tuck its power cable in the rubber gasket that runs around the windshield to plug it into the dashboard.

“Mounting the unit itself takes a minute or two,” Heck said. “And then you spend about 10 minutes running the cable down and connecting it.”

To further smooth the process, Heck said that Nauto is not meant to truly incorporate into any other systems already installed on a vehicle.

“We've designed our system not to interfere,” Heck emphasized. “We back off on any alerts that the car already has. We don't duplicate those and we only add the ones that your vehicle doesn't have.”

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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