Why we should all ‘Put Our Junk in The Trunk’

With the slogan, ‘Caring for the world, one person at a time’, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is naturally passionate about road safety. Over 20 years ago, the company set up SAFE Fleet®, a global program which educates and trains employees about safe driving. One of SAFE Fleet’s most recent distracted driving initiatives is ‘Put Your Junk in The Trunk’, which has proven successful at helping employees feel more focused and less stressed.

Junk in the Trunk graphic

To coincide with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, eDriving writer Julie Farmer spoke to Rebekah Langford, Southeast Region Business Director of Rheumatology at J&J and leader of SAFE Fleet since 2014, to discuss the Put Your Junk in The Trunk initiative and find out whether the company’s approach could help all of us to reduce distractions behind the wheel.

Rebekah, please tell us about Put Your Junk in The Trunk

We ask all drivers to put distracting devices in the trunk while they drive. When we first rolled it out we did it for one full business week. Now, it takes place on the first Monday of every month.

What do your drivers think about giving up their electronic devices?

Over time feedback has shown that drivers consider themselves more productive and feel that they get their destinations quicker when they put their phones away. They say they feel less stressed because they aren’t attempting to multi-task. Here are a few of the great comments we’ve received:

  • “I noticed other people with the phone up to their ears, which was scary and frustrating.”
  • “There was no temptation to grab and text.”
  • “Out of sight, out of mind.”
  • “I was completely alert, more defensive, and able to switch lanes when a car was merging.”
  • “I was more aware of my speed and surroundings and able to dodge a buck.”
  • “I’m glad I did this. It made me realize how distracting and dangerous driving can be.”
  • “I’m trying to get my wife and children to do this.”
Aside from Put Your Junk in The Trunk, what is the company’s policy on using phones while driving?

Drivers on company business are not permitted to use a hand-held mobile phone, or any other hand-held electronic device while driving. To make or accept a call on a hand-held phone, the driver must first park in a safe location.

What about drivers who use their phones for GPS?

Cell phone use is prohibited in corporate vehicles. As we have always sought out the safest vehicles, with updated technology, many of our vehicles now have GPS included as standard features. If a car does not have GPS, the drivers are expected to plan their routes prior to getting behind the wheel each day.

Has Put Your Junk in The Trunk raised awareness of distracted driving among employees?

Yes, we know that for at least one day per month we’re getting people to think about distracted driving. We’re showing them they CAN live without their electronic devices in the car and focus purely on driving.

I encourage drivers to go beyond the one day per month, so when I’m sending other SAFE Fleet messages I’ll sign off with a reminder to make every day a Put Your Junk in The Trunk day.

People often use the excuse that they need to make calls while driving to maintain productivity. How do you respond to that?

We heard a lot about that. I got – and still get – pushback on this issue. People say to me: “I’ve got to be in touch with my kids” or “What if my customer calls me?”. I say to them: “At the end of the day we are not brain surgeons or performing heart surgery while we at work, so there is nothing that won’t wait for us to pull over and park up in a safe place before we return a call.”

Do employees keep up their safe driving practices away from work?

Yes, I’m pleased that our drivers take home what they learn and share insights, resources and skills with their families. They also report discussing safe driving with children and teenagers in their family, so we know our efforts are having an impact on future drivers.

Have you noticed a difference between the way older drivers and younger drivers respond to the idea of not using their phones while driving?

Absolutely! And this is not just at work; I have this issue every day with my own kids. However, I have found that in being the lead for SAFE Fleet, my kids have heard me being so passionate about distracted driving and have taken notice of this. My son, who is 18, would never ever look at his phone or answer a call while driving, no matter what. He would always pull over into a safe place before checking a missed call.

Does this mean you’ve discovered the key to communicating the risks of distracted driving with all ages?

We’ve been hiring a lot of millennials and we’ve found that they respond differently to different communications.

In my region, we’ve just started a pilot tapping into Yammer and I think this could be a great way to communicate our SAFE Fleet messages. Our millennials suggested using Yammer and us old timers said: “Do we really have to have something else to check every day?” We don’t want to be using different kinds of technology 24/7 but it seems the best way of reaching out to younger people.

Having a logo and catchy phrase helps to communicate an idea. Something simple; a little silly. My kids make fun of me all the time about Put Your Junk in The Trunk but at least they know what it means and are talking about distracted driving.

For SAFE Fleet I often record video testimonials to share with employees and each time I do one I ask my kids to record it for me on the iPad. It’s another easy way of involving them in the distracted driving conversation. They get to see that safe driving is a big issue for us as a company and bringing it into the home makes it a big issue for us as a family, too.

It sounds like you have some great tips for parents on chatting to their children about distracted driving.

If you care about the safety and health of your children, which all parents inevitably do, you must talk to your kids about distracted driving. There are some great videos on YouTube that are awesome for highlighting what can happen if you take risks. I’ve shared these with my own kids and I know a lot of the time they roll their eyes and think ‘Here she goes again’, but the videos hit home. When I was younger I watched a video of some girls in a car texting, then they hit something and it showed the view inside the car with blood splashing around. That video had such an impact on me as a driver. Videos can be hard-hitting and shocking so parents need to use their own judgment, but if you determine what your kids can take then I feel that the more impactful, the better.

Finally, why is road safety so important to you?

When I first took on SAFE Fleet my colleagues were joking, asking what I had done wrong to be given that project! But it’s something I’m passionate about.

For me, what really hit home was when I was trying to teach my teenagers how to drive. I realized how many things we take for granted and think we are good at. Most of us have been driving for so many years that we just back out of the driveway and go; driving becomes a habit. You think you are concentrating but you are not. We need driving to stop being a habit and instead be our only focus. Putting our phones out of sight is a good place to start.