We have all seen drivers doing it – talking on the phone, having a bite to eat, texting, or even grooming themselves – while driving. But, how often are you the person guilty of this behavior, known as distracted driving? Approximately 70% of drivers admit to using their cell phones while driving, but only 25% of drivers believe that their behavior while behind the wheel puts them, their passengers, or other bystanders at risk. Distracted driving is defined as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving” and can include: texting, using a cell phone, using an app on a smartphone or tablet, eating and drinking, talking to other passengers in the car, grooming, reading, using a navigation system, watching a video, or adjusting the radio. All distractions increase the risk of an accident and endanger the lives of the driver, passengers, and bystanders, but when we are the distracted drivers, we are unable to see the dangers of our own actions.
New technology is causing us to be more distracted than ever before. And it’s not just smartphones that are to blame. Infotainment systems in vehicles, with satellite radio, integrated navigation systems, and hands-free driving apps that read and send text messages or answer and place calls, fool us into thinking that multitasking while driving is not only possible, but also safe. And since most states have implemented hands-free driving laws, most drivers assume that using these technology enhancements in their vehicles makes them safer. But, this is not true. These technologies are more about convenience than safety and continue to affect our brains long after we’ve stopped using them. Drivers who text while at a red light or who use voice to text technology are still distracted up to 27 seconds after reading or sending a text. When you are behind the wheel of a car, every second counts and it only takes a moment of distraction to cause an accident. Do you want to risk being inattentive for 27 seconds?
Driving, having a conversation, combing your hair or putting on make-up, eating, sending a text message or using an app are all thinking tasks and require equal amount of effort and concentration from your brain. Just like you can’t watch tv and have a conversation at the same time, you cannot drive and do another activity, like talking or texting, at the same time. The human brain is not built to multitask this way. Trying to switch your attention between these two tasks takes energy and slows your brain’s reaction time to unexpected events, like pedestrians in a crosswalk or a car coming into your lane. In fact, drivers talking on cell phones miss about 50% of their driving environments, commonly referred to as “inattention blindness.” Drivers who text while they drive are even at higher risk for an accident as it takes approximately 5 seconds to read a text message. Taking your eyes off the road for 5 seconds while traveling 55mph is enough time to cover the length of a football field – doing so while driving is like driving down that field blindfolded.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given daylight moment in America, 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving. This and other distracted driving behavior led to 431,000 injuries and 3,179 deaths in 2014. The best way to combat distracted driving is to educate drivers on the dangers it possesses. April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and organizations like NHTSA, People Against Distracted Driving (PADD), the Distracted Driving Foundation, End Distracted Driving, Stay Alive…Just Drive, and Teens Against Distracted Driving, are raising awareness about this important issue and advocating for legislation that would ban distracted driving behavior such as texting and driving or using a cell phone while driving.
Even smartphone manufacturers and cell phone service carriers are joining the fight to end distracted driving. Cell phone blocking apps and devices help drivers stay focused on driving by preventing drivers from making or accepting calls or texts or using apps while driving. To learn more about distracted driving apps that have been tested by the Department of Motor Vehicles, visit http://www.dmv.org/distracted-driving-apps.php. To learn more about the distracted driving apps available on your personal device, contact your cell phone provider.
Also this month, take the pledge to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on driving to help put an end to distracted driving and save lives across America.