With ever-increasing demands on our personal and professional time in today’s busy society, learning to juggle multiple tasks at once is something we all face daily. As a result, a new traffic safety epidemic has emerged on America’s roadways: distracted driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016, 3,450 people were killed, and in 2015, 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. One of the most alarming and widespread forms of distracted driving is cellphone usage.
So why do so many people participate in this dangerous behavior? With more technology now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented levels. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day, and those expectations don’t stop just because someone gets behind the wheel.
People often think, “I can do two things at once. I’ve memorized where the numbers are on my phone, so I don’t have to look.” Or, “Sending or reading one text is pretty quick – that should be OK.” They couldn’t be more wrong. Driving is an activity that requires your full attention and focus to keep yourself and others safe. According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blind at 55 mph for the length of an entire football field.
A 2014 article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of a crash or near-crash among novice drivers increased with the performance of many secondary tasks, including texting and dialing cell phones.
Text messaging is of heightened concern because it combines three types of distraction – visual, manual, and cognitive. In other words, texting involves taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off the task of driving.
While those numbers may sound like just statistics, they’re anything but. The individuals involved could be parents, children, coworkers, and friends. As anyone who has lost a loved one in a crash can tell you, even one traffic fatality is one too many. The reality is that this unnecessary risk can be eliminated with a few simple behavior changes:
- Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
- If you must use your cellphone, pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot to safely complete your call or text.
- Be a role model for other drivers and set a good example.
- Discuss the dangers of distracted driving with your family, friends, and coworkers. The NHTSA and National Safety Council (NSC) have numerous free resources available to communicate this critical topic at nhtsa.gov and nsc.org.
- Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving.
- Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
- Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against unsafe drivers.
Pay attention to others who may be distracted. In areas with heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic, be sure that individuals crossing in front of your vehicle are aware of you and not on their electronic devices.
While safety should always be the key priority, it’s also important to understand that distracted driving can be a legal issue. A majority of states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. Several have primary enforcement laws – where an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place and give the driver a fine. Some states prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving. Be sure you’re familiar with the specific laws in your area before you hit the road; a helpful list
is available at drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/distracted-driving.
So the next time you are pressed for time and it seems like multitasking in the car is the best decision, remember those lives that were taken because someone decided he or she could do two things at once. A text or call is not worth your life,
or anyone else’s. Stay safe.
Sources: AAA Digest of Motor Laws, drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/distracted-driving/
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Driver Electronic Device Use in 2016, June 2017, nhtsa.gov
National Safety Council, nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/distracted-driving