According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving plays a part in four out five vehicle accidents in the United States. As a driver, there is plenty to watch through the windshield and rearview mirror without devoting attention to entertainment or grooming.
To drive, one must earn a license because it is a privilege, and we should not take its responsibilities for granted. Folks who teach driving skills will tell us that there are four basic driving safety rules: 1) follow the law; 2) pay attention to other drivers; 3) pay attention to how you feel; 4) and demonstrate safe driving habits.
Safe driving habits include the ten-and-two hand position, keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and other vehicles, and, above all, remembering your focus should be driving a two-ton mass of metal and plastic from here to there without being a nuisance or a danger.
Because we arrive safely at the end of most of our trips, we might take driving for granted. Behind the wheel, we tend to create an insulated world for ourselves in which we listen to our favorite music or books on CD, eat on the way to save time, and for several years now we also have talked on the phone for business and pleasure.
Drivers using a cell phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Nine states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, and 31 states ban cell phones for drivers under a certain age. For drivers younger than 19 in Arkansas, it is a secondary offense to use a handheld cell phone and a primary offense for bus drivers. Hands-free devices allow a person to keep both hands on the wheel, but still the driver is distracted. Can the conversation wait for a few minutes?
The newcomer to the list of distractions is texting, which in 2009 caused almost 1000 fatal accidents. Texting while driving is a primary offense in Arkansas for all drivers. Enacting laws making texting while driving illegal merely meant that texters keep their devices out of sight, meaning in their laps, and thereby exacerbating the distraction. Texting while driving violates safe driving habits on many levels, and NHTSA statistics demonstrate that "text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, "Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55 mph of driving the length of an entire football field blind."
Talking with passengers is the most common distraction. Passengers might make us laugh or get angry or tell us "look at that cute little puppy back there" or otherwise engage our focus. Children as passengers sometimes demand much of our attention. Data reveals that drivers in the 16-25 age group are mostly likely to lose focus by engaging with passengers, but the tendency decreases as a person gets older.
The probability that a driver will get distracted by a preponderance of heavy thoughts increases with age.
The Top 12 distractions, according to the NHTSA are:
* looking at movements/actions in the vehicle
* using a cell phone or CB radio
* adjusting radio, CD player
* retrieving an object (from floor or other seat)
* eating or drinking
* reading a map or directions or looking at a navigational device
* talking with passengers
* thinking about an impending event
* thinking about a recent argument
* thinking about financial or other personal problems
Here is a real-life scenario. A young mother is getting her three children ready for school. She is on the verge of coming down with the flu, and she realizes there is not enough in the pantry for their breakfast. The kids are old enough to get themselves ready, so she dresses quickly so she can dart to the market even though it distresses her to leave them alone for ten minutes. On the way to the store, she ponders her dire financial straits which resulted from a nasty divorce, and she needs to hurry or the kids will be late for school. She wonders, "Why me!" She might be the driver behind you.
Life happens all around us. On the road right now there are drivers who are either very young, ill, angry and driving close behind, overly medicated, texting, eating a burrito with one hand and holding a map in the driving hand, putting on lipstick, returning home from an unsuccessful interview, running a simple errand or just moseying along enjoying the sunny afternoon.
Every driver carries a set of circumstances, so here is what we can do when we enter the driving jungle to make the world safer for everyone.
First of all, focus. Second of all, continue your focus. And while you are focusing, pay attention and avoid distractions. Look ahead up close and farther down the road. Get the whole picture. Glance at the rearview mirror. If you are in traffic, check the sideview mirrors as well.
If you are in a neighborhood with narrow streets, like Eureka Springs, anticipate where problems could occur. If there are parked vehicles ahead, a person between them might not see or hear you coming and step out into the road. Kids, deer, dogs and squirrels are obviously unpredictable.
Stay a safe distance behind the vehicle up ahead and watch your speed. Having a driver race up close behind us can be very distracting and unnerving so don't do it to someone else. If it happens to you, continue driving safely and stay calm. Tense drivers are unsafe because they are less aware.
The weather can present distractions and hazards, so adjust your driving.
Maybe you are a multi-tasking sensei at your job, or a mother who can care for your infant while making dinner and watching Lifetime movies. Too many things are never enough and you fill up your life with many simultaneous accomplishments. Driving should not be like that. It should be good enough that we get there safely.
More than half of our vehicle accidents are caused by driver error. In 2009, more than 33,000 persons died in traffic accidents in the United States according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Sometimes it is the weather or the road or vehicular failure. Considering what is at stake, however, there is no excuse for allowing unnecessary distractions to interfere with our safe driving habits.