A Simple Distraction Can Result in Cataclysmic Consequences
Driving distracted is a significant contributor to highway collisions. One federal report even refers to distracted driving as a national epidemic.
It is easy to minimize the impairment of a vehicle operator, when they are inattentive or distracted. But the reality is that they are much slower to attend to even the simplest driving tasks. They suffer from a subtle delay in recognizing roadway data which they must respond to instantly. Driving no longer is their primary activity; it is reduced to secondary status.
Generally speaking, the drivers who cause major crashes fall into certain personality and lifestyle demographic profiles. Most of the irresponsible drivers who engage in really egregious conduct – such as running stop signs, driving drunk or recklessly, are generally out of control in all spheres of their lives.
When it comes to distracted driving, however, many of the accidents are caused by people who otherwise are very sensible. Even usually responsible people often underestimate the danger they put themselves, and others, when they drive distracted. This can involve either their eyes being diverted from the road, or it could be just the cognitive slippage which results from being lost in thought.
While texting and cell phone usage has preoccupied the media, more mundane tasks can prove deadly. Changing the radio station is a common culprit. Risky behaviors include eating or drinking, reaching for an item, brushing hair, and adjusting the GPS navigation system.
A Distracted Brain is a Lethal Weapon
Hands-free phones are thought of as safe. But new statistics are bearing out that, in fact, they also are a hazard. Dialing them can be just-distracting-enough. Voice-activation car phone systems are safer but still require multitasking.
About 6,000 driving fatalities occur each year as a result of people driving while distracted. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, well over 20% of vehicle collisions annually are the result of nothing more than inattention of a driver.
Drowsy Driving is Under-Reported
According to study results from the National Sleep Foundation, less than one half of Americans claim they get a good night’s sleep. And nearly a third admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel. Sleep researchers tell us that a person awake for 20 hours has an impairment equal to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. That’s the legal limit for unlawful driving after drinking, throughout the United States.
Public funds have allowed for the federal government’s Drowsy Driving Prevention awareness campaign (www.drowsydriving.org). It is important that the general level of national awareness on this issue becomes more elevated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has underscored that 16 percent of all drivers under age 20, who caused fatal collisions, were the result of being drowsy.
Preventing Tragedies Caused by Cell Phone Distraction
At the Distracted Driving Summit meeting in Washington recently, remedies were proposed to halt this social problem. The emphasis was on using new technologies to combat the hazards caused by communication technologies themselves. It is clear that people are not able to resist using their cell phones when they are driving. Ways to prevent cell phone use in moving vehicles are being developed in laboratories. When they are perfected, there may be shifts in the law to encourage their use.
Certainly the voice technologies are helping to reduce collisions caused by distracted hands and overwhelmed eyes. Individuals overlook the cognitive overload present when operating a vehicle while dialing and talking on a phone. The Department of Labor is working in conjunction with the Department of Transportation to campaign against the fatal consequences of distracted driving. Whether these changes encourage fewer collisions, as has been true with intoxicated driving, will be interesting to follow.
It is believed that highway improvements have helped to curb many distracted driving wrecks. Those roads with technological improvements, such as raised lane markers, startle some drivers into an awakened state. Corrugated road edges which create warning sounds also make our roads safer. The wider the road the easier it is for the inattentive driver to take corrective action. The new technologies have also allowed for highway lights and posts which break away. These have caused greater municipal expense, but the savings in lives are being demonstrated every day.