Eyes on the road –
Hands on the wheel
By Bernard Freeman
With Labor Day travel just days away, physician and teenage drivers heading back to school, viagra this is a perfect time to encourage highway safety. Distracted driving is near the top of the list of safety issues on our roadways today. Texts, salve phone calls, emails, music, food and drinks — the list of distractions hampering American drivers goes on and on.
Defined as any activity that affects you visually, manually or cognitively while behind the wheel, distracted driving can lead to dangerous and deadly consequences. That’s because driving requires our full attention, not only for routine travel but also for those situations that require rapid, sudden maneuvers. Using our cell phones, reading a map, applying makeup, writing or adjusting the radio are just a few more common distractions that can lead to unintended and avoidable accidents.
Are We Safe on the Roads?
More than 80 percent of drivers cite distraction as a serious problem and a behavior that makes them feel less safe on the road, according to the annual AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index.
AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association) also reports that half of all respondents say they feel less safe than they did five years ago.
A Real Issue
These fears of more dangerous roadways are not unfounded. Federal estimates report that distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, says AAA. This leads to 5,000 deaths per year.
Teenagers are particularly at risk. A recent AAA Foundation in-car study showed that teen drivers were distracted about 25 percent of the time. Of this group, a large portion of the distractions were attributed to electronic devices. Behaviors like texting, emails and downloading music fit in this category.
For many drivers across the nation, 2009 was a turning point in the battle against distracted driving. That’s when President Barack Obama issued his first executive order on the matter. His action led to a snowball effect in terms of various federal agencies enacting their own laws on distracted driving, eventually leading to major change in many state laws as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here is how the president and federal agencies have impacted the behavior.
- On September 30, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or while using government equipment;
- On September 17, 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration banned cell phone and electronic device use by employees on the job;
- On October 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving; and
- In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned all hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers and drivers carrying hazardous materials.
States Follow Suit
States first began to get involved in the issue in 2001 when New York instituted the first ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving. In 2007, Washington became the first state to enact an all-driver ban on texting.
In Virginia, anyone under 18 years old is banned from using cell phones or any other personal communication devices while driving. Texting is banned for all drivers. In Virginia, it is considered a primary offense, which means police can pull you over if they suspect you of texting while driving. The fine is $125 for the first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.
One of the most influential studies, according to the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, was the 2006 initiative by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. This study revealed that drivers engaging in visually and or manually complex tasks have a three times higher near-crash or crash risk than drivers who are attentive.
Other findings from this study included the risk of a crash or near-crash event being:
- 2.8 times higher when dialing a cell phone
- 1.4 times higher when using or reaching for an electronic device
- 1.3 times higher when talking or listening to a cell phone
A Dangerous Activity
Even though we can’t all seem to agree on the legality of texting while driving, we all should pay attention to the statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and its “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks” advertising campaign:
- You are three times more likely to crash your vehicle if you text while driving
- 49 percent of adults say they have been passengers in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone
- 68 percent of teens and young adults disagreed that it is easy to text while driving and still pay attention to the road
- 78 percent of teens and young adults say they have read a text message while driving, while 71 percent say they have composed and sent one.
Sometimes, the statistics say it all. According to an AAA study, drivers talking on cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash than drivers who are not distracted.
A University of Utah study showed that talking on a cell phone has a greater effect on reaction time than having a blood alcohol level of the legal limit of .08.
But, why is talking on your phone while driving such a dangerous activity? The answer is a complicated one comprised of issues both psychological and physical.
Two types of cell phone behavior typically lead to unsafe driving conditions, and it may surprise you which one can have a greater impact on your driving.
These classifications of cell phone usage are:
- Handling the phone which includes dialing, answering, text messaging and using it for GPS navigation. If your hands are on your phone, it means they aren’t on the wheel.
- Conversations, which can be just as dangerous, as studies have shown your mental commitment to a phone call is demanding, even if you may not realize it.
The National Safety Council reports that in simulated driving tests, drivers who were asked to carry on a cell phone conversation were so distracted that they were unaware of some traffic signals.
The study compared phone conversations to other related activities such as listening to audio books and news radio, stating that these types of activities are less emotionally engaging, hence safer to do while driving. The more emotionally engaged the subject, the study found, the less attentive he or she was to safety signals.
Digging a little deeper, the results were unaffected by whether the subject manually held the phone or if the mechanism was hands free. This means that even if you’re following the law by using a hands-free device, you may still find yourself in a situation where you’re unable to react quickly enough to a dangerous situation.
How Adults Can Help
As with many major issues, addressing distracted driving starts at home. Parents can make a major impact on the driving habits of their children, especially if they have teenagers with little experience on the road.
This can start by simply leading by example. Your children are watching your every move — even when it comes to driving. Are you constantly distracted by incoming phone calls, text messages or emails? Do you occasionally break the law by sending a text message or answering your phone while driving?
These behaviors might seem minor to you, but you’re setting a pattern of behavior that could be followed by your children. You can lead by example by ignoring incoming phone alerts. Tell your children that you just received a text, but you’re waiting until you reach your destination to check and reply to it.
Talk About the Issue
When you see a story in the news covering the topic of a teenager’s death due to distracted driving, don’t change the channel. Call in your children to talk about what happened. How could the accident have been avoided? What actions might the victim have been able to take to keep safer on the road?
Honest dialogue about what kind of damage distracted driving can cause is the first step to stemming the behavior. Who knows, the next time your children think about checking their texts while driving, they may just remember your words of wisdom and choose to wait until they safely reach their destination.
Teach Defensive Driving
Not every victim of an accident caused by distracted driving is the one actually answering a phone call or sending a text. That’s why it’s important to teach your children to be heads-up drivers.
Watch for oncoming traffic at all times, especially at intersections or on hilly, rural roads. Teach your young drivers to trust only themselves on the road and to be ready for others who may not be paying attention.