We’ve all been in the car when the person in front of you holds up the entire line of traffic because they’re too busy with their phone instead of paying attention to the red light. Seems pretty harmless, right? Wrong. What’s at stake isn’t a missed green light, but rather the thousands of lives lost every year because people can’t put down the phone.
Distracted driving accidents and deaths are staggering. It’s the leading cause of death among teens (16-19 year olds), and a root cause of the rise in pedestrian deaths (up by 19% since 2009). The average driver is 23 times more likely to be in a crash while texting and driving, and 12 times more likely if dialing from a phone.
Many choose to engage in risky behavior while driving. We are distracted while driving, which in truth is anything that diverts our attention from the primary task of navigating a vehicle. That is anything that visually, manually or cognitively distracts.
Simply put, distracted driving is any one combination, or all three of these:
Visual distraction – Taking your eyes off the road.
Manual distraction – Taking your hands off the wheel.
Cognitive distraction – Taking your mind off driving.
Distractions most often include things like using a cell phone or texting, but also eating, taking selfies, brushing your teeth, using in-car GPS, shaving, putting on makeup etc. Believe it or not, people report doing this. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, phone use is the most common and worst offender because it combines all three types of distraction.
Here’s the truth – more than 30% of drivers admit to reading a text or email while driving. Nearly a third of drivers said they typed a message while driving. 75% of people say they’ve seen others using their phone while passing them. Yet 80.6% of drivers overall say it’s a completely unacceptable behavior.
It’s so unacceptable, in fact, that text messaging is banned for all drivers in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Because the reality is that texting (writing or reading) takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which at 55 MPH is like driving the length of a football field – BLINDFOLDED!
Drivers have the illusion (definition: something that is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses) of being in control. We believe that doing it just once won’t hurt. And as a society we’ve accepted multitasking without question. Virtually all of us spend part or most of our day either rapidly switching from one task to another or juggling two or more things at the same time. While multitasking may seem to be saving time, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are finding that it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.
Studies show that you can handle two things at a time when one of those things is routine (as compared to something that requires real concentration – i.e. walking vs driving). And further evidence suggests that mastering a single activity (like driving) to the point it becomes automatic is unlikely to make you better at multitasking.
Unsafe driving behaviors set a precedent for our young drivers who have neither the experience nor precision to calculate such risk. Teen drivers are actually the most at risk driving demographic due to distracted driving. They are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash and that number is only rising.
What can we do? Distracted driving is completely preventable, but it requires that we change our behavior. We need to put the phones down (out of reach, turn off the ringer etc). Not be enticed by the momentary need to respond or solicit a response, because it can wait. And the truth is you are not in control if you aren’t focused on the task at hand, which is “driving.”
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