Thursday, August 25, 2011

But officer, I only looked down for a second…

When I’m sitting at a stoplight, I like to count how many people across the intersection making the left turn in front of me are either on the phone, or texting.  It’s usually at least half of the drivers. 

Also, when I see a car swerving, or slowing down while driving, I no longer think of the possibility that the driver is drunk.  It’s always “I wonder if they’re talking -- or texting -- or both?”  

Finally, it’s always amazing to see a driver, who is obviously distracted, looking up just in time to swerve to avoid a collision, but never putting down their precious phone during and after the whole episode.  Guess they don’t want to miss out on a single bit of conversation or miss out on typing a single character on their keyboard, even though they almost rear-ended someone!

According the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are three types of distraction…

Manual (taking your hands off the wheel)

Visual (taking your eyes off the road)

Cognitive (taking your mind off what you’re doing)

Over the years, distracted drivers have been able to “get away with” things like talking on a cell phone, quickly glancing at a map, or even shouting at the kids, because these activities, though distracting, don’t necessarily incorporate all three types of distraction.

Texting is a real menace, though, because it does involve all three types of distraction.  It’s virtually impossible to text without taking your hands off the steering wheel; same with taking your eyes off the road; and you have to think about what you’re reading or texting -- rather than paying attention to the road.

Don’t forget, if you’re going 55 mph and texting, every time you look down for a few seconds to text, you’ll travel further than the length of a football field, without looking at the road.  Just think about how many potential things that can go wrong in that short time span:  A dump truck suddenly swerves into your lane, someone slams on their brakes ahead of you, a pedestrian tries to run across the road, a large piece of debris is in the road, requiring a split-second maneuver to avoid it – the list goes on and on.

The statistics say that distracted driving causes 20% of all auto accidents that result in personal injury.

Here are a few more sobering stats:

-- The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers is the  under-20 age group – 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

-- Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

-- Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (University of Utah)

Here are some suggestions from Farmers and my agency:

* Try not to drive after an argument, or if you’re upset about something

* Store the phone somewhere you can’t reach it, like in the back seat or even the trunk.

* If you have children, enlist them to hold you accountable to no distracted driving (they’ll like that!).

Stay safe out there!


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