Driven to Distraction

Distracted driving.   It’s a term we’ve heard a lot lately.  My job requires me to drive quite a bit and it seems like I see people driving while staring at their cell phones every time I’m on the road.  The fact is, it’s a dangerous practice.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, in 2009 more than 5,400 people died in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver and about 448,000 people were injured.

Driving requires our attention.  There are three types of distractions that take our attention away from driving:

  • Visual – taking our eyes off the road.
  • Manual – taking our hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive – taking our mind off the task at hand.

Distractions can come in many forms including:

  • Eating and drinking.
  • Combing hair, putting on make-up.
  • Reading.  Yes, that includes reading a map.
  • Adjusting the radio, iPod, etc.
  • Using a cellphone (talking, dialing, etc…)
  • Texting.

All of these distractions are hazardous.  But texting involves all three types of distraction and is therefore particularly dangerous.  A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds.  Traveling at 55 mph, this would be the same as driving the length of a football field while not looking at the road.

So what can we do?

  • Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from driving.
  • Give teenage drivers clear instructions.  Discuss the dangers of distracted driving with teenage drivers.  Remember, “Don’t Drive InTEXTicated.”
  • Set an example.  It’s not just a “teen” issue.  No one should text and drive.  Safely pull off the road if you need to talk or text on the phone.
  • Many states have enacted laws addressing cell phone use and texting while driving.  Be familiar with your local laws.

Distracted driving is something we are all probably guilty of at some time or another.  But it is also something we can correct. For more information on distracted driving visit www.distraction.gov, and if you have any tips for staying focused while driving, share them here.

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