The other day, I saw a woman driving her car holding a cigarette with one hand and a cell phone to her ear with the other. All while a dog was sitting on her lap. To many, this may sound extreme and trigger the reaction “is she crazy?” but this sort of scenario is becoming much more commonplace than you might think. Or that it should.
How many times have you been sitting at a red light and, once it turns green, had to beep your horn because the cars in front of you didn’t move? Chances are, they were checking their phones or, worse, engaged in a text or voice conversation.
Common sense supports the first rule of driving: “Keep your eyes on the road.” Unfortunately, however, common sense doesn’t seem to be prevailing. Distracted driving is one of the riskiest driving behaviors, and young drivers are the biggest offenders.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 71% of teens and young people say they have composed or sent text messages while driving, and a whopping 78% say they have read a text message while driving.
Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone reduces a driver’s reaction time. Cell phone use also affects how drivers can scan and process information from the roadway. These distractions can lead to so-called inattention blindness in which drivers fail to process information from objects in the road even if they are looking at them. That means that a wireless headset isn’t necessarily better than holding a phone to your ear. Then again, you don’t often seen young drivers using wireless headsets.
Here are some other sobering facts from Distraction.gov:
• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
• The use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
• Drivers in their 20s make up 27% of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.
• A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive.
• According to the Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), 20% of teens admit that they have had extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
Even if you and your children are diligent and unwavering in your commitment not to text or talk while driving, there is still the risk of other distracted drivers involving you in an accident. This makes it even more vital that we teach our kids about the potentially hazardous activity that driving is. And, while the use of electronic devices such as cell phones and smartphones has drawn the most public and mass-media interest with respect to distracted driving, it isn’t the only culprit. Eating, adjusting the radio, and talking to passengers are some of the secondary tasks that drivers engage in, and young drivers are particularly prone to these distractions.
When it comes to operating two tons of machinery, there’s no margin for error. Looking up and paying attention is the only option.