The Dangers of Distracted Driving

Beyond the convenience and freedom that come with driving a car lies a world full of peril. This is not an exaggeration, and neither are the stories of the inherent dangers on the road. According to this CDC report, about nine people in the U.S. are killed daily in crashes reported to involve distracted drivers. The advent of the internet and mobile computing has only worsened distracted driving, with younger drivers being the group most susceptible to driving distractions.

Despite persistent organizational efforts, distracted driving-related accidents remain a potent killer on the road. We’re here to explain the importance of Distracted Driving Awareness Month and show how you and your loved ones can be safer on the road.

What is Distracted Driving Awareness Month?

Distracted Driving Awareness month is a campaign held in April of every year. It brings to light the dangers of distracted driving and the fatal results that stem from the same. This data shows that fatal accidents tend to rise in April, and remain high until December. Expect to see increased marketing and policing efforts between NHTSA and state and local police to bring attention to a problem that has claimed countless lives.

This yearly sustained effort is backed by successful results from a decades-long information campaign that sought to increase the use of seatbelts among motorists.

Many LGUs and organizations hope to mitigate this epidemic through similar campaigns such as the National Teen Driver Safety Week. For teen drivers, the summer is a particularly dangerous time.

The Problem

Distracted driving is an insidious killer. A seemingly harmless lapse in judgment easily leads to a fatal accident in mere seconds. Texting on the way to work, handling a work call while on the road, navigating through your infotainment system while you speed through the highway. All these actions are inherently harmless, but drastically affect your ability to perceive and react to dangers on the road. This is primarily due to the limitation of our brain in processing multiple tasks.

Contrary to popular belief, our brains are incapable of true multitasking. Unlike an all-wheel drive powertrain that distributes engine power equally across all wheels, the human brain does not distribute its processing power equally to different tasks. Instead, the brain switches its full attention between tasks, with every task diminishing cognitive performance. The only way to guarantee safe driving is to give your absolute attention to the task at hand.

Moreover, consider the fact that high-speed accidents happen in mere seconds. It’s easy to see how the slightest distraction can rob you of valuable seconds that can mean the difference between a close call and a closed coffin.

We are simply no match for physics and the brain’s cognitive limitations, no matter how adept we think we are at driving. Understanding the types of driving distractions allows us to identify behavior that puts us at fatal risk.

The Danger

Any action that forces you to take your attention away from driving is a distraction because it diminishes your cognitive performance. There are three main types of driving distractions.

  • Visual Distractions – actions that force you to take your eyes off the road.
  • Manual Distractions – actions that force you to take your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive Distractions – actions that cause you to take your attention away from driving.

Texting while driving is among the worst distractions because it presents visual, manual, and cognitive distractions simultaneously. It’s also for this reason that the fines for texting and driving range from $20 to $500 depending on your state laws. Some states prescribe even higher penalties.

Oregon is deemed the state with the highest penalty for using a mobile phone while driving, with fees going as high as $1,000. In the same breath, texting while driving in Alaska qualifies as a misdemeanor criminal offense and is punishable by up to one year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines for first offenders.

The Solution: Staying Distraction-Free

Keeping your undivided focus on the road takes more work than it initially seems because there are many things that could potentially become a distraction. These tips can help you create a distraction-free driving environment:

  • Stow Your Phone. Texting while driving is among the most distracting activities. Some people even check their phones as a force of habit, even when they don’t really mean to. Stowing your phone and setting it to “do not disturb” takes away the temptation to check it.
  • Secure and Store Loose Objects. Loose objects don’t seem dangerous until they rob you of your focus. Moreover, they can easily turn into projectiles during a crash, considering the speed and force of an impact. Before driving, ensure that nothing can roll around your cabin. Store them in your glovebox, and tie big items down if you have them.
  • Look Ahead, Plan Ahead. Always plan your route before starting your trip. Put in your navigational data before your trip and avoid using your infotainment system while mobile. If you need to make adjustments, always pull over to a safe space before using your navigation screen.
  • Snack Smart. Avoid eating meals while driving, especially if you’re alone. If you really must eat food during a trip, make sure to have some passengers assist you, and avoid messy food.
  • Secure Children and Pets. Make sure to get children and pets settled before driving. If they need attention, always pull over to a safe area before addressing their needs. Never attempt to care for them while driving as reaching into the backseat diminishes your control over the vehicle.
  • Set Riding Rules. Take the time to orient your passengers on safety rules. Designating roles can also help remove potential distractions. Have one passenger manage music and navigation. Keep conversations light, and noise low.
  • Devote Your Full Focus on the Road. Keep your eyes on the road and its surroundings and your hands on the wheel. Ensure you have adequate rest prior to your trip.
  • Repair your Windshield. Chips or cracks in your windshield could inhibit your view of the road and can impair Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) sensors that help reduce the dangers of distracted driving.

An NSC report shows that July, August, and October are notorious for having the highest number of car accidents from the last several years. The 4th of July is as American as any holiday can get. August marks the start of a new academic year, while traffic volume tends to spike during October. Be sure to review these road focus tips, along with these back-to-school safety tips in preparation for the months ahead.

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