Driven To Distraction
We always see the aftermath of a automobile accident; crumpled metal, a scattering of broken glass, police cars and tow trucks. We watch the drivers exchanging information and examining the damage. Then we drive on. We may be able to guess how the accident occurred from the way the wrecked cars are positioned and where the damage is, but the truth of the matter is that an automobile accident has to do with so much more than where the damage was done, but also why.
There seem to be more distractions than ever when it comes to driving. Not only must we be aware of what’s going on outside of the vehicle, but inside of the vehicle as well. MP3 players, phones, makeup and reading devices are now vying for our attention while we are behind the wheel. While it isn’t necessary to indulge in a text message or phone call, many drivers are under the illusion that they are, an illusion that’s blinding them to the reality that changing the music or reading the newspaper while behind the wheel can prove to be a dangerous indulgence.
Many states have laws against texting and driving, but that hasn’t deterred several drivers from tapping away on their phones to tell friends they are running late, or asking their spouse what they’d like for dinner. Studies show that driving distractions account for a majority of crashes and near crashes. A 2011 study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that over 70% of accidents and over 50% of near-accidents occurred from driver distraction; in most cases the distraction occurring within only a few seconds before the automobile accident. Kanetix reported that 70% of Canadian drivers recently admitted to driving while distracted.
The study concluded that the leading distractions were reaching for a moving object, cell phone use, putting on makeup, looking away from the road and reading. Drivers who use a hands-free device for their cellphone and think their chances of being involved in an accident are lowered should know that simply using a handheld device isn’t safer than using your hands to hold the phone. The amount of accidents and near accidents for drivers dialing is mostly the same for drivers who listen and talk. A distraction is a distraction. It’s recommended that drivers make and finish calls before driving, or just allow the caller to leave a message.
It’s Not Just Cellphones and Music
There are other distractions to consider besides cellphones, makeup, books and MP3 players. Eating while driving may not seem anymore dangerous than driving with one hand, but while eating you’re also unwrapping, opening, reaching and wiping, not to mention twisting and sipping if you want something to drink. While driving with one hand you can always quickly slap your hand back on the steering wheel if necessary. Eating may involve dropping both food and drink and then putting your hand back on the wheel, an action that may cause you the few precious seconds necessary to avoid an accident.
Tickets, collisions, increasing insurance rates and the possibility of a fatality don’t seem to be enough to keep drivers from being distracted. So what, if anything, will? Have we really become so swept up in our personal lives and jobs that we risk our safety and the safety of others to check an office e-mail, take unimportant calls and take our eyes from the road and hands from the steering wheel to find a song? Maybe we should strive to remember what it was like when we were first learning how to drive, how we learned to give our full attention to the road and the vehicles around us. We’ve become so comfortable with driving that we no longer have the same sense of reverence we once had for the act of driving. And maybe it’s time that we started heading back for that road.