Three Seconds: A Recipe for Disaster

By: Traffic Safety Professional Jay Anderson, Executive Director, Stay Alive .... Just Drive!

What's the relationship between defensive driving and driver distraction? The answer is clear; Defensive driving means keeping yours eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Driver error remains a contributing factor in more than 97% of crashes and collisions that occur. A typical distraction lasts three seconds, enough time for a car going 45 mph to travel more than half the length of a football field. Combined with an average reaction time of 1.5 seconds, the resulting 4.5 seconds becomes a recipe for disaster.

A recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute provides data and information proving how dangerous distracted driving has become.

In the study, 100 vehicles in the Washington D.C. area were monitored. Daily experiences of real motor vehicle operators in real driving situations. Instrumentation so subtle that drivers forgot it was there allowed researchers to examine the causes of crashes and near crashes.

Each car was tracked for about a one year. Results reveal a great deal about defensive driving. The study showed 82 crashes ( with another vehicle, stationary object, or with a bicyclist or pedestrian ); 761 near crashes ( defined as a rapid, severe manuever that avoided a crash ) ; and 8,295 incidents ( evasive manuevers that are not as severe as those in a near collision ). In 65% of all incidents and 80% of all near crashes, the driver took their eyes off the road ahead immediately before the threat materialized ( defined as three seconds or less ).

Driver fatigue is the number one cause of crashes. Multitasking was the second leading cause of crashes and near crashes. The " secondary task distraction " that was involved in the greatest number of incidents was the use of hand-held wireless devices. Simply put, defensive driving means staying focused on the task of driving when your behind the wheel.

Not suprisingly the study shows statistically it's safer to be around an experienced driver on the interstate in light traffic and good weather who is traveling 10 mph over the speed limit, than to be near a young distracted driver heading home from school driving a few miles under the speed limit, more than likely text messaging friends, munching on chips, and constantly fiddling with the radio. Realistically, as soon as any inattentive driver takes their eyes off the road, any speed is unsafe.

Just watch the drivers ahead of you apply their brakes. Masters of defensive driving rarely find themselves in a situation where they have to slam on the brakes. On the other hand distracted and novice drivers often brake hard and make panic stops in order to avoid a collision.

Inattentive and inexperienced drivers typically react to hazards after they happen. Experienced drivers who stay focused on the road recognize potential problems before they occur. Essentially they are able to drive out of danger because they see the danger in time.

We ask that all drivers acknowledge that driver inattention is not only dangerous but unecessary and recognize the activities that distract you. Make an effort to pullover to take that call, or let it go to voice mail, quit eating or grooming while driving and stop text messaging when your behind the wheel. CRASHES DON'T DISCRIMINATE! that's why it's so important to remind ourselves when were in the drivers seat to: STAY ALERT, STAY FOCUSED, STAY ALIVE .... JUST DRIVE! ™ and don't forget to Buckle Up, Every Trip, Every Time, another three seconds that can save your life.

Visit us on the web: www.sajd.org, or call the SAJD office at (239) 340-8693