Too Distracted to Drive?
Who doesn't have a cell phone these days? How about an iPod, iPad, mp3 player, PDA, gaming device, GPS?
They are an important part of many people's lives. Yet, they are very dangerous if used while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) reports that motor vehicles fatalities have gone down steadily in recent years:
-Fatalities in 2005 totaled 43,510 and were fewer than 34,000 in 2009.
-Newer cars have better safety features, including air bags.
-In addition, more drivers and passengers are using seat belts every year.
Unfortunately, however, increased use of electronic gadgets has increased the number of accidents and deaths caused by distracted driving. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day, and those desires do not stop just because people get behind the wheel.
Drivers simply do not realize the dangers that are posed when they take their eyes and minds off the road and their hands off the wheel and focus on activities other than driving.
Many Kinds of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is any nondriving activity that takes the driver's attention from the primary task of operating the vehicle and increases the risk of crashing. There are three main types of distraction:
-Visual--Taking your eyes off the road
-Manual--Taking your hands off the wheel
-Cognitive--Taking your mind off your driving
Texting involves all three--which is why it is so dangerous.
Accident During Routine Driving
Studies have shown that in most cell-phone-related crashes the drivers were not presented with challenging or changing situations that required quick thinking or emergency maneuvers. In most cases, the drivers simply failed to control their vehicles during routine driving conditions.
Typically, distracted drivers either strike something in front of them or leave their lane of traffic. These two patterns certainly seem to reinforce the assumption that inattention is the problem.
Distraction of Talking To a Passenger
What about conversing with a passenger in the vehicle? Is that just as distracting as talking on the phone? Most experts say no, because there are two important differences:
-The first is that a passenger in a vehicle is aware of the driving situation and can even serve as an additional lookout for hazards. Also, if the driver suddenly stops the conversation, the passenger can see what is going on around them--the reason may be evident. But a caller on another phone obviously won't see what's happening and will continue the conversation.
-The second is that phone use seems to carry a certain obligation of immediacy. When the phone rings, we feel compelled to answer it--whether it is convenient, safe, or appropriate to do so. A passenger would not initiate a conversation in such a situation.
Don't You Need a Phone For Emergency Calls?
Many would argue that cellular telephones are important devices for reporting emergencies. This is absolutely true, and the law enforcement community supports such use. But emergency calls can and should, whenever possible, be made from a stopped vehicle.
Young Drivers Are Especially At Risk
Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
Their lack of driving experience can contribute to critical misjudgments if they become distracted. Not surprisingly, they text more than any other age group and the number of young driver who text is only increasing.
Research shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting.
At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road.
Drivers who text are more than 20 times more likely to get into an accident than non-distracted drivers.
May 24, 2010 OSHA Compliance Advisor