Will We Ever Learn to Just Drive?

By Jay Anderson

Since the introduction of the automobile, distractions have always been a major factor in the safe operation of a vehicle. Given the number of distractions in these days of electronic technology, along with eating, grooming and dealing with small children, society must accept the fact that distracted driving has now become a public health threat.

There are four types of distractions that interfere with a driver's safe operation of a motor vehicle. VISUAL: anything that requires you to take your eyes off the road. AUDITORY: anything that diverts your hearing, COGNITIVE: anything that takes your mind off the road, and MANUAL: anything that takes your hands off the wheel.

Consider the fact that using a cell phone, sending a text message, or operating a lap top while driving involves all four of these distractions.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 80% of crashes, and 65% of near collisions, are the direct result of driver inattention. NHTSA also states that more than one million vehicles on the road, at any time are being driven by someone who is using a cell phone. Stand on a street corner and look for yourself

The four distractions, visual, auditory, cognitive, and manual are often responsible for driver performance typical for DUI. A study at the University of Utah confirmed that drivers using the cell phone drove worse than a driver under the influence of alcohol. It's best not to prove this for yourself.

Ironically there are three safety errors distracted drivers routinely find themselves guilty of:

1. Delayed reaction time, such as braking, failure to notice motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, or another vehicle pulling out in front of them.
2. Failure to obey a traffic control device, such as red lights and stop signs. This includes failure to maintain your lane along with the speed limit.
3. Distracted drivers take risks because their attention is not focused on driving, violating the right-of-way is common, especially left turns in front of oncoming motorcycles and other traffic.

Let's address some common myths often associated with distracted and/or unsafe driving:

Myth # 1, Use of a hands free device while driving is safer. Sorry, but the results of a 2008 Carnegie Mellon study show that talking on the cell phone while driving reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%. This holds true for hand held or hands free devices.

Myth # 2, I don't wear my seatbelt so I can escape if my car catches fire or ends up in the water. The chances of your vehicle catching fire or winding up in the water is slim compared to the risk of being involved in a roll over crash, or a red light running crash. Your risk of dying in a roll over crash if unbuckled rises to 75%. An unrestrained 160 lb. occupant involved in a 30 mph crash becomes a human projectile striking other occupants or the vehicle interior with over 4800 lbs. of force. Seat belts save lives.

Myth # 3, I'm a good driver. Most people believe they are good drivers and try to drive safely, unfortunately there are a large number of motor vehicle operators on the road who are unlicensed, uninsured, with no registration. Combine these with inexperienced, impaired, distracted , aggressive drivers and others who don't respect traffic laws, the good driver becomes a sitting duck. Drive like your life depends on it.

Myth # 4, As long as I'm a car length away from the vehicle ahead I'm safe. This is a recipe for disaster. The rule of thumb is one car length for every 10 mph. Sixty five percent of intersection crashes are rear-enders and eighty five percent can be attributed to driver inattention. Remember a car going 45 mph travels 66 feet in one second, that's why following to closely will get you in trouble every time.

Statistics now show that 97% of all crashes are a direct result of driver error. As MLB pitcher John Smoltz reminds us, don't let distracted driving become your nightmare. Stay Alert, Stay Focused, Stay Alive .... Just Drive! ™


Traffic safety professional Jay Anderson, is the Executive Director, of the Stay Alive .... Just Drive! ™ crash prevention, awareness, and education program. To learn more visit us on the web: www.sajd.org