Spring is all about fresh starts. As April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month, it’s an excellent opportunity for all of us to renew our focus on good driving habits. Are you keeping your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and mind on driving? Risky habits could be putting you, your passengers, other drivers and pedestrians in danger.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. While the danger of driving and using cell phones receives much attention, other examples of distracted driving include changing radio stations, programing a GPS, checking makeup in the mirror, gawking at a crash scene, reading billboards, eating and drinking, reaching for fallen objects, talking to passengers, and daydreaming.
Julie Dominik, OTR, CDRS, CDI/PD, (instructor) with Mercy’s Driver Rehabilitation Program, works with drivers of all ages — from 15 ½ years old to end of life — one on one, as well as with employees at local companies like MCTV. She said accidents are often the result of momentary distractions.
“Just a glance at that text to see if your friend is already at the restaurant can’t hurt, right? Tragedy can happen faster than you might think,” Julie said. It takes an average of five seconds to shift our eyes from the street to read a text or change radio stations. In that time, at a speed of 55 mph, you’ve traveled the entire length of a football field — without looking at the road.
How big of a problem is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is a dangerous trend on our nation’s highways. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report:
- 3,477 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2015.
- 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2015.
- At any given moment during daylight hours, over 660,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) reports that there were more than 20,500 distracted driving crashes last year in Ohio — a 16 percent increase since 2013.
Texting and driving — a bad idea at any age
Texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by 23 times, making it one of the riskiest driving behaviors. It’s particularly dangerous because it requires manual, visual and cognitive attention, all at the same time.
Julie said that while we are quick to point fingers at teens for texting and driving, we are all addicted to our cell phones. “Adults have a lot more experience driving, so they think they can add tasks more easily than teens. Anybody, at any age, can be distracted. We’re under the impression that we can multitask well, but we can’t.” Multitasking may cause us to see the shiny red sports car several vehicles up, but not the shiny red light right in front of us.
Adults can set the tone for teens’ good driving habits, and for little ones as well. “Set the example of not using your cell phone when driving, especially if children and grandchildren ride with you,” Julie said. “If you use that phone, you’re telling your kids it’s acceptable.”
But hands-free devices are OK, right?
No. Studies have shown that “safe” technology such as voice-to-text and hands-free devices gives us a false sense of security. You may think that your mind is fully on the road, but more than 30 recent studies show that even with hands-free devices, the brain remains distracted by the conversation — and because the brain controls all activity, this also affects the visual and manual skills necessary for driving.
Research also suggests that all cell phone conversations — including those with hands-free devices — are more distracting than talking to passengers because people in the vehicle can tell when traffic is heavy or if there are other situations that require concentration.
Reduce your risk of being a distracted driver
To help prevent a needless tragedy, there are steps every driver should take to ensure that they are safe and not contributing to the distracted-driving problem.
- Turn off your cell phone or put it on silent before driving
- Place your cell phone in trunk or glove box to avoid temptation
- Pre-set navigation system and music playlists before driving
- Schedule stops to check email, voicemails and texts
- Install an app on your phone that disables it while vehicle is moving
- Ask a passenger to answer incoming calls
- Change your voicemail greeting to tell people that you may be driving and you’ll call them back when you can do so safely
- Start all calls you make by asking the person if they are driving
Take the Pledge
In honor of Distracted Driver Awareness Month, take the National Safety Council pledge to “Just Drive” and invite your friends, family and co-workers to join you.
If you would like more information on safe driving, driver rehabilitation or older driver safety, contact Mercy’s Driver Rehabilitation Program at 330-489-1135.