Distracted Driving: Don’t be a Statistic

These days, multi-tasking is a fact of life.  Our lives are more demanding than ever before, and cell phones have made us available 24/7. Our culture’s compulsion for increased productivity has forced Americans to squeeze more time out of a 24 hour day. On the surface, we think driving is easy- a “mindless activity”.  So, we deceive ourselves into thinking we can accomplish other tasks while we’re driving, like talking on the phone, texting, eating, adjusting a radio, or even talking to passengers. The fact is, this “multi-tasking” is creating an epidemic in our country—an epidemic of “death” from distracted driving. 

Research statistics prove that distracted driving is a real problem. The “cold hard facts” are listed below:

Distracted driving contributes to up to 8,000 crashes every single day (www.AAAfoundation.org/multimedia/distracteddriving.cfm)

Driver distractions are a factor in 80% of vehicle crashes (www.NHTSA.gov)

Using a cell phone while driving quadruples your risk of being involved in an accident (www.distraction.gov, NHTSA)

Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash (www.distraction.gov, NHTSA)

Using a cell phone while driving, whether its hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reaction as much as having a Blood Alcohol Concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent (University of Utah, www.distraction.gov, NHTSA)

Driving Takes A Lot of Brain Power

Did you know that “Multi-tasking” is a myth.  Research has proven that it is impossible for the brain to perform more than one task at a time.  The brain switches quickly from one task to another, which leads people to believe they are actually multi-tasking.  But the fact is, reaction times are slower when the brain is attempting to perform more than one function at a time.  As a result, the brain cannot give 100% of its focus to either of the tasks at hand. 

For the most part, our Driver’s Ed teacher in high school taught us well.  We know some driving tasks so well that they just become natural, like: staying in our lane, right turn on red after coming to a complete stop, maintaining speed limits, slowing down for yellow lights, and stopping at red lights.  However, even the routine driving tasks can become serious risks if our full attention is not on driving.   Distractions cause information overload on our brains, resulting in mental errors, slower reaction times, inattention blindness, and poor judgment calls.

Recent studies from the University of Utah showed how distracted driving impacts overall traffic flow and creates dangerous vehicle clusters resulting in serious accidents.  The study revealed the following driving behaviors directly related to distracted driving:

Drivers are 20% less likely to change lanes

People talking on cell phones tend to look straight ahead, paying less attention to what’s going on in their peripheral vision, creating dangerous lane changing, or swerving into other lanes.

Drivers are up to 50 seconds slower to change lanes behind a slower moving vehicle when using cell phones

Drivers have 24% more variation in their following distance when distracted by other tasks when driving

Inattentive drivers drive an average of 2 MPH slower speed than attentive drivers

Legal Implications

It is important that a Distracted Driving Policy be implemented in your dealership.  As of July 1, 2013, texting while driving will become a “primary offense”, which means that a driver can be stopped by a law enforcement officer for reasonable suspicion of texting while driving.  If the driver is found guilty of reckless driving by the unlawful use of a handheld personal communication device, the conviction would result in a Class 1 Misdemeanor.  If the sole and proximate result of this reckless driving offense causes the death of another person, the conviction may be judged a Class 6 Felony.

There are also legal implications for not enforcing distracted driving policies.  The leading cause of worker fatalities, year after year, has been motor vehicle crashes, and distracted driving behaviors are contributors to this trend.  OSHA penalties can certainly be expected if a motor vehicle related fatality occurs in your dealership. Other legal implications can be anticipated: from negligent driving including civil liability and personal injury lawsuits to professional liability from not having formal policies in place, or from supervisors not enforcing established procedures.  For more information on Distracted Driving Policies, go to www.distraction.gov.  OSHA also launches a Distracted Driving Initiative during the annual Drive Safely Work Week.  Information on this safety initiative can be found at www.osha.gov/distracted-driving/intiative.html

How Can Americans Stop the Epidemic?

What can be done to stop the epidemic of distracted driving?  For starters, establish a company policy and enforce your company rules.  Other steps that are crucial to protect your organization from loss are listed below:

  • Review defensive driving techniques with company vehicle operators.  Be sure to review “all” types of driving distractions.
  • Don’t  use “any” electronic devices while driving (no hands-free or hand-held devices)
  • Don’t  eat or smoke inside the vehicles
  • Don’t  apply make-up or conduct other grooming activities
  • Don’t fixate on an object or event outside the vehicle that will take away your attention
  • Don’t  read books, maps, texts, mail, etc. while driving
  • Don’t bring arguments or intense conversations into the vehicle while driving
  • Do Stay Focused
  • Do Expect the Unexpected
  • Do keep a good following distance
  • If you must talk or text, pull safely off the road before beginning any communication
  • Do allow sufficient time to reach your destination

 Driving is a skill that requires your full attention.  Your actions on the road will impact   others.  Keep your eyes on the road.  Keep your mind on driving.  Keep your hands on the wheel.