Paying Attention to Distracted Driving

Many people don’t see the harm in checking one message or reading the screen of their in-car devices, but in the time it takes to read one text, a driver may take their eyes off the road for nearly five seconds. To put that in context, if you are driving at 55 miles per hour, you will have driven the length of an entire football field without looking.

Each year since 2010 April has been declared Distracted Driving Awareness Month, in the hopes of reminding drivers of the harm distracted driving causes. The goals of the program include identifying possible distractors, such as cell phones, multi-tasking and passengers. Related campaigns also seek to point out that using hands-free devices and built-in features may not be as helpful in reducing distractions as they once were thought to be.

The Prevalence and Impact of Distracted Driving is a joint effort by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to spread statistics and current research on distracted driving.

Though there have been many public service messages and advisories to reduce distracted driving, the United States Department of Transportation reports that three to four thousand people die in car crashes caused by distracted drivers every year. Injuries in distracted driver accidents numbered 421,000 in a 2012 study.

Designation of a National Awareness Month may be the push needed to raise the collective consciousness to the dangers of distraction driving.

Cell Phones are Distracting When Used in Any Situation

National efforts like AT&T’s “Driving While Intexticated” campaign and local measures like Atlanta’s The Great Hang Up have been geared directly at distractions caused by cell phone use. This April, organizations are widening their scope to remind drivers any kind of cell phone use can be a distraction.

Hands-free devices were once thought to be a help in keeping a driver’s eyes on the road and off of distractions. But recent research has shown that headsets and ear pieces may be just as distracting handling a cell phone, and that the act of talking on the phone requires the same type of thinking skills driving does, splitting the driver’s attention. In an extensive study that looked at several factors that can lead to distracted driving, including daydreaming, headset use, in-hand cell use and unnoticed obscurities of vision, drivers using hands-free devices were not substantially safer drivers. The cognitive distraction of using a phone, as well as the handling of and looking at the device and hands-free paraphernalia is as dangerous as using and holding a phone.

Distraction beyond Cell Phone Use

Turning off a cell phone is one great step towards increasing driver attention, but there are other distractions to drivers even when phones are no longer part of the equation. This April, efforts to raise awareness of the distractions caused by passengers, multi-tasking and over-attentiveness to in-car features will be as important as limiting cell phone use.

Engaging in conversation with others can be as cognitively taxing as using a cell phone, and can also take a driver’s eyes off the road. Navigation systems, in-dash cameras, and radio dials can be distracting as well. Any many drivers multitask, eating or putting on makeup while on the road.

This April, do your part to be less distracted while driving and reach out within your community to participate in awareness campaigns. Sign pledges to drive more safely through non-profits like TEAMGeorgia, and encourage others to do the same. Commit to reducing the accidents, injuries, and fatalities by becoming more attentive when on Georgia’s roads.