Pay Attention to Your Driving Environment
Paying Closer Attention to Traffic and Road Conditions Will Make You a Safer Driver
Traffic schools for driving instruction and defensive driving spend countless hours focusing on distractions.
Why? As you drive, most of your attention should be focused ahead of you, where your car will be in a few seconds. You need to constantly watch out for driving conditions and the actions of other drivers. Anything that seriously distracts you from the road ahead puts you and those around you in danger.
And we’re talking about the attention of both your eyes and your brain. It’s not enough to look ahead of you; your brain has to be engaged on driving as well.
3 Kinds of Distracted Driving
The NHTSA Website identifies three types of distracted driving.
- visual, taking your eyes off of the road
- manual, taking your hands off of the wheel
- mental, letting your mind wander
Which of the three is the most prevalent — or the most dangerous — is largely a matter of opinion, but they’re all risky. A moving car with a distracted driver is basically a missile aimed at pretty much anything.
In a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 80% of all collisions were blamed on drivers engaged in distracting activities. The study determined that the most common distraction for drivers was using a cell phone while driving, and the number of crashes while dialing a number was roughly equivalent with the number of crashes while the driver was talking or listening.
Various distracting activities increase your likelihood of being involved in crash.
- Talking or listening on a hand-held device 1.3 times more likely
- Dialing a hand-held device 3 times more likely
- Applying makeup or grooming 3 times more likely
- Reading 3 times more likely
- Looking at something outside the car 3.7 times more likely
- Reaching for a dropped or moving object 9 times more likely
NHTSA, “The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk” 2006.
Cell Phones and Texting
Lately, cell phones and text messaging have become the biggest issues when people talk about driving distractions. Increasingly, states and cities are outlawing the use of text messaging and hand-held cell phones while driving.
If you've heard that driving while texting is more dangerous than driving while drunk, it's true.
Texting involves all three kinds of distraction. You mind is on something other than driving. Your eyes are on something other than the road, and your hands are busy sending or scrolling through the text message.
In 2009, Car and Driver magazine conducted an interesting experiment. They put two drivers behind the wheel of the same car (No, not at the same time!) and told them to hit the brakes as soon as a light on the dashboard came on.
Researchers measured how long it took the car to brake after the light went on.
- Unimpaired, the drivers stopped the car .54 seconds after the light came on.
- Getting their blood alcohol level up to .08% added 4 feet to the stopping distance.
- Stopping while reading an email message took them an extra 36 feet.
- Stopping distance while reading a text message took them 70 feet. It's much safer for everyone for you to just pull over and send the message. Or focus on driving and let the message wait 'til later.
Even receiving a call on a hands-free cell phone is a dangerous thing for a driver to do. You're far more likely to be involved in a crash during a phone conversation than during a conversation with a passenger. When you're driving along talking to a passenger, they're in the car with you. They are an extra set of eyes watching the road. Not only can they help to alert you to surprises, they are aware of driving conditions and can moderate their conversation accordingly.
This is not true of a telephone conversation. The person on the other end of that phone call has no idea what's going on around your car unless you interrupt the conversation to tell them. They can't help you watch the road and they'll go on distracting you with their talk regardless of what's going on outside of your car.
How to Avoid Distracted Driving
The good news about distracted driving is that it's almost always self-inflicted, the result of bad decisions or poor planning on the part of the driver.
And that means distracted driving is preventable.
Whenever you get behind the wheel, take steps to eliminate whatever distracts you from driving. Eat before you get into the car. Let the phone call go to voicemail. Give the kids something to entertain themselves with. Don't be shy about asking your passengers to be quiet for a minute if you need.
If any of this seems like a time-consuming inconvenience to you, imagine just how inconvenient a car crash can be. Ten minutes to finish breakfast before you pull out of the driveway is nothing compared to six weeks in traction. And when it comes to something interrupting your schedule, nothing compares to a funeral.
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