The great peril on our roads is driver distraction. Simple steps will ensure you don't become distracted while driving, with potentially tragic results.
- By Phil Moser
- Sep 18, 2008
Did you know that if you are driving at a
speed of 65 miles per hour, you are traveling
at approximately 100 feet per second? At this
speed, if you were to look down for a few
seconds, you would travel the length of a football field.
A lot can happen in a very short time. When motor vehicle
crashes are reconstructed, it is not uncommon to
find that if a driver could have a quarter of a second of
time back, he or she would not have been involved in
the collision. A quarter of a second more, and the driver
would have arrived home safely that day.
There are few things in life that can change so many
lives as quickly as a vehicle crash. Collisions that take
mere seconds to occur may cause hardships that are not
recovered from in a lifetime.
Most people consider themselves to be safe drivers.
But can you improve? Have you ever driven to a destination
and, after you arrive, you can’t remember anything
about the drive? Have you ever traveled through
an intersection controlled by a traffic signal and then
couldn’t recall whether the light was green or red? Driving
becomes second nature to us, so we have a tendency
to do other things when we are behind the wheel. This is not to say that you are a “bad” driver. What this
indicates is that driving is a skill and, as with any other
skill, you need to work at it in order to be good at it.
There is no magic involved with safe driving. The
key to it is actually fairly simple—pay attention. It
should be common sense that when we get behind the
wheel, we need to focus on our driving; for something
that seems so simple, you wouldn’t think this would
pose a problem. Statistics prove otherwise.
Every year in the United States, there are approximately
6.15 million reported motor vehicle collisions.
From those reported crashes, 2.7 million people are injured
and approximately 44,000 people lose their lives.
That equates to approximately 120 people dying every
day on our roadways. To say that we have a problem is
Many of the crashes that occur each year can be
traced directly to driver distraction. The National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted
a study that indicates driver distraction is the root cause
of approximately 25 percent of all crashes. Other studies
place this number at a much higher level. The Virginia
Tech Transportation Institute conducted a study
that showed that as many as 80 percent of all crashes are
caused by driver distraction.
As these two vastly different study results indicate, it
is difficult to actually determine whether a crash occurred
because of driver distraction. Drivers typically
will not admit that the reason they crashed was because
they weren’t paying attention. No matter what the study
results show, it is safe to conclude that distracted driving
leads to crashes.
All a driver needs to do to witness distracted driving
is to observe the activities of his or her fellow motorists.
Drivers are eating, reading, grooming, correcting their
children, riding with their pets on their laps, using their
computers, watching movies, talking on their cell
phones, and texting, to name just a few. These distractions
are commonplace and are quite often accepted driving
practices. If you are a safe and diligent driver, you
should be concerned about what is happening around
you. If you are one of the members of the distracted
class, you need to get your act together.
The following offers information regarding some
common driver distractions and provides recommendations
regarding how to deal with them.
Did you know that if you talk on a cell phone while driving,
you are as likely to crash as a person who has a
blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent? That is the
assumed level of intoxication in all 50 states in the
United States and all of the provinces of Canada. Numerous
studies have verified these findings. These
studies have also shown that the use of a hands-free device
does not make it safer. Holding the phone isn’t the
problem; it is the distraction of the conversation while
driving that is unsafe.
Some will argue that talking to a passenger is no different than talking on a hands-free phone.
All of the studies have shown that talking on
a phone takes more of your cognitive concentration
than talking to a person in your
vicinity. If for no other reason, this is true because
if the passenger you are talking to notices
something unsafe, he may make you
aware of it or at the very least will stop distracting
you. Whereas if you are on the
phone, you will continue to be distracted
right up to the point of your collision.
Build time into your schedule so that you
can make your calls while you are safely and
legally parked. Let incoming calls go directly
to voicemail and let people know that you
won’t answer the phone while you are driving.
Tell them that you will return their calls
as soon as you are safely parked.
Eating causes distraction. An even greater
distraction is created when something spills.
When this occurs, all attention to driving is
lost. If the only time you have to eat is when
you are driving, there is another area of concern
that needs to be addressed: the overloaded
Build time into your schedule to allow
yourself a few minutes to eat. Be honest with
yourself. How long does it take to eat a sandwich
and drink a beverage? Is it worth risking
a crash for the few minutes you save by
eating while driving?
It is not unusual to see men shaving and
women applying make-up while driving.
There have even been reports of people
brushing their teeth, cutting their hair,
and clipping their toenails while driving.
Where does it end?
Here is a suggestion to all drivers who
feel compelled to groom themselves while
driving: Get up earlier! Your grooming
should be done while you are stationary in
your bathroom. For one, you will look
nicer. Two, you greatly reduce your risk of
being in a distraction-related crash. It truly
Children can be a major source of distraction
while driving. There are numerous reported
crashes that occurred when parents
turned around to correct their children or assist
them with dropped items. Many of these
crashes have ended tragically.
Teach your children from an early age
that distractions in a vehicle must be kept to
a minimum. If distractions from children reach a level where intervention is required,
stop the vehicle in a safe area and then take
care of the situation.
Quite often driver distraction does not
have to involve a physical activity. Drivers
can become lost in their thoughts and become
totally oblivious to what is happening
to their driving. Distraction may also
present itself in the form of emotions.
Anger, feeling down, or feeling happy can
lead to distracted driving.
In order to correct these “mental” distractions,
you must first realize they are occurring.
Test yourself: At any given point in
time while you are driving, see if you are able
to describe the vehicles that are around you.
If you can’t, you are not scanning properly.
You should rotate your vision constantly by
scanning ahead, to the sides, and behind you.
Another way to combat mental distractions
is to verbalize your surroundings while
you are driving. This may sound a little
strange, but it can be effective. If you find
your mind wandering, verbalize what you
see as it relates to the driving task. For instance,
vocalize what you see as you scan
ahead, to the sides, and behind you. The idea
is that, in order to speak about something,
you must first think about it. If you speak
about your driving, it will force you to think
about your driving. This can help you to regain
It is also very important to control
your emotions while driving. If you become
upset while you are behind the
wheel, do not take these emotions out on
your driving. If somebody does something
that annoys you, let it go. If you allow the
actions of other drivers to influence the
way you drive, you are relinquishing the
control of your vehicle to that person. If
another driver wants to drive stupid, let
him. Rise above it.
It’s Your Decision
This article urges you to stay focused and
drive safely. Ultimately, it’s your decision.
What you need to consider is cause and effect.
Your driving actions may affect more
than just you. Don’t be so selfish that you
don’t consider your loved ones, your fellow
motorists, and their loved ones. You don’t
want to be the person that causes your family
or another family to have to endure a
hardship. You have a decision to make: Are
you going to stay focused and safe? Or are
you going to drive distracted and unsafe? I
hope you make the right decision.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.