Everyone who drives should know the dangers of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, reports that there were 885,000 distraction-effected crashes in the U.S. in 2015, resulting in 391,000 injuries and 3,477 deaths. While cell phone use is the primary cause of distracted driving there are many other causes that contribute. To stay safe on the road, drivers need to be disciplined and follow three basic rules:
- Stay focused on the act of driving where you need to go.
- Pay attention to what you’re doing and keep your eyes on the road.
- Always expect the unexpected.
If you can think of it, it has probably been done by somebody while driving a car. People have been seen or caught by police drying hair, brushing teeth, working on laptops, clipping coupons, tying shoelaces and even changing a baby’s diaper. More common distractions include cell phone use, talking to passengers, adjusting the radio and climate controls, eating, map reading, and general grooming on the way to work. Other distractions include enjoying the scenery, reading advertising, “rubbernecking” at a wreck, driving while tired or thinking about things other than the road in front of you. Other passengers – especially children – can be a dangerous source of distraction. Even if you aren’t talking to your passengers, they can be talking, laughing, shouting, and so on.
Cell Phone Use
Cell phone use is the most common cause of distracted driving, and most states now ban texting and Internet use while driving. If you look down at your phone for five seconds to read a text message while driving on the interstate at 60 mph, you’ll travel more than the length of a football field with your eyes off the road. However, talking on cell phones, even while using a hands-free device, is a serious distraction. This is because your focus is on the conversation and not the current road conditions, so you are distracted whether you are holding the phone or not. Furthermore, most people use GPS apps on their phones now rather than standalone GPS systems. This distraction is the same as if sending a text message.
Gone are the days when the only non-driving controls in a car were roll-down windows and a basic radio with an on-off button and a dial. These days, we have in-car entertainment systems, video players, heated seats, GPS and climate-control systems more advanced than those in many people’s houses. These are often controlled by touch-screen interfaces, which require drivers to look away from the road. Most interfaces display a disclaimer that warns drivers not to use them while driving, but that doesn’t mean drivers don’t do it.
Children and animals in the car can cause serious distraction. Restraining, whether it’s with a seatbelt for children or a pet carrier for animals, is a legal requirement and paramount for safe driving. Even so, children can still fight and argue with each other, kick the back of the driver’s chair, and generally make focused driving a challenge. Pets should be put in carriers or a similar device that not only constrains them, but keeps them as calm as possible.
Safe Driving Practices
It’s probably impossible never to have a distraction while driving. Human nature means we all make mistakes, and everyone has had a near-miss driving experience. But by trying to pay attention, we can greatly reduce our risk of being distracted. A big part of safe driving is preparation. Make the following adjustments before you drive:
- Climate control
- GPS routes
- Child/animal comfort and constraints
Make any phone calls, texts, emails or other forms of communication before you head out. If possible, you should turn your phone off or set it to “do not disturb” while you’re driving. Many smart phones now have a “driving” mode which helps drivers avoid distractions. If you do need to make a call, stay disciplined and pull over to the side of the road.
Check out SafetySkills Distracted Driving Prevention training course for more useful hints and tips.