Written by: Miki Johnston, LCSW
I have a confession to make: I was a distracted driver. It wasn’t until I was asked to write this article that I was challenged to examine my own behavior. I always thought multi-tasking was one of my greatest strengths. In my ignorance, I truly believed this applied to my ability to engage in other activities while driving. Who was I kidding? My research forced me to realize that every time I looked down to change the radio station, answered my cellphone, or fumbled through my purse I was engaging in behaviors that distracted me from driving safely. It had to stop!
DISTRACTED DRIVING is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. It is claiming thousands of lives and destroying families every minute! Distracted driving is not just texting or talking on your cell phone but, “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” Distracted driving puts that driver, their passengers, and everyone else sharing the road at serious risk. Although texting and talking on the phone while driving are the number one distractions, some of the other common distractions we engage in are connecting to social media, eating, disciplining children, listening to music, changing radio stations, having house pets uncaged in the car, and looking through our briefcases and purses. These distractions, often deadly, stop us from giving our full attention to the most important thing we are supposed to be doing – DRIVING!
There are three main types of distraction:
- Visual – any behavior that takes your eyes off the road
- Manual – any behavior that requires taking your hands off the wheel
- Cognitive – anything that takes your mind off driving
It’s frightening when we realize that texting requires the driver to engage all 3 of these functions. It’s a fact that drivers who are talking, texting, and emailing behind the wheel are more of a danger than drunk drivers. Talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of a car accident and when you’re texting, your crash risk increases up to eight times. The truth is, there is no safe way to use a cell phone and drive – even with a hands-free device
More Shocking Statistics:
- Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field. (2009, VTTI)
- In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in distracted driving crashes
- An Estimated 1 in 4 car crashes involves cell phone use
- Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,153 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
With stats this devastating, why do people still engage in distracted driving behaviors? There are many “excuses” people use to justify this potentially deadly act. Some simply believe they are experienced enough drivers to manage multiple tasks while driving. Others are feeling the pressures of their overscheduled lives and make use of car time as a way to accomplish all that they need to get done. It’s estimated that people spend an average of one hour and 15 minutes in their vehicles every day. With longer commutes, an increase in heavy traffic, and demanding home and work schedules, accomplishing tasks in your vehicle is more appealing.
In the case of teens, it’s part of their normal developmental thinking to believe they are immune to the dangers of distracted driving. In other words, they have an “It won’t happen to me” or “It’s not that big of a deal” mentality. 77% of teens surveyed said they were confident that they could safely text and drive. This line of thinking is simply not the reality. Not only are traffic crashes the leading cause of death for American teens, 6 out of 10 moderate to severe teen crashes are the result of driver distraction. An adolescent’s propensity for risk taking only exacerbates these safety concerns. Studies have shown that teens who frequently text while driving are more likely to ride with a drinking driver or drink and drive than students who text while driving less frequently.
Regardless of age, we all seem to lack awareness of our limitations as it pertains to distracted driving. National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin says that texting while driving is the same as driving after 4 beers. Despite the efforts, most distracted driving campaigns have not been effective in lowering the rates of accidents and fatalities related to distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Administration has found that the most effective way to lower the rates of distracted driving accidents is to have strict laws in place and a police presence who are strongly enforcing the laws.
Locally, one of the problems we face is that Texas is one of the only states where there is no criminal penalty for distracted driving. Furthermore, in the case of a teen driving accident or any car accident where the minor is at fault, the parents are held liable. This can be financially devastating to a family.
As parents, we are the primary influence on the type of driver our teens will become. Therefore, we need to model good driving behavior, and directly enforce good driving habits by following these simple steps:
- Stop using your phone while driving
- Discuss the laws and consequences related to distracted driving
- Click here to take the pledge to drive cell-free
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. In honor of the ones you love – including yourself – I challenge us all to become more focused drivers and stop using all technology while we are behind the wheel. Your pledge could save a life.
- gov (NHTSA – National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s official website for distracted driving)
- The National Safety Council (NSC)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)