Distracted driving — every driver is guilty

Are you a distracted driver? Absolutely “YES,” no exceptions. Distractions are everywhere and are constant. They can be as simple as looking for the button to turn on the radio, windshield wipers, headlights or looking at anything along the side of the street or road, to more complex distractions such as eating, grooming, texting or checking out some of the things available on the vehicle’s information system.

“When people talk about distracted driving, most often cellphones are the focus, but drivers are distracted by other secondary behaviors more often than cellphones,” says David Kidd, a senior research scientist with the Highway Loss Data Institute and co-author of a recent driver distraction study. “Things as simple as drinking coffee or talking to your kids can take your attention away from the road.”

Studies show that about 14 percent of drivers were engaged in nonphone-related secondary behaviors in 2014 and 2018, which exceeded the proportion of drivers seen using phones in both years. Relative to 2014, drivers were more likely to be observed manipulating an in-vehicle system, grooming themselves or manipulating or holding an electronic device other than a phone after researchers adjusted for community, perceived driver gender and age, time of day and roadway situation.

Nevertheless, the problem of distracted driving, especially cellphone use, continues to raise concerns. A 2018 national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 64 percent of respondents consider distracted driving a much bigger problem today than it was three years ago. “The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” says Kidd. “The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk.”

According to an article in the January edition of “Status Report” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cellphone use affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway. Drivers generally take their eyes off the road to dial, send texts and browse the web on a hand-held phone — all activities that fall under the rubric of manipulating the phone.

Drivers engaged in cellphone conversations tend to concentrate their gaze toward the center of the roadway, but their attention still may be diverted from driving and make it difficult for them to process what they are looking at.

Crash, injury and fatality data likely underestimate the number of injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers. Despite efforts to determine cellphone use by drivers in crashes, such data continue to be difficult to collect as they largely depend on people truthfully telling law enforcement officers what they were doing or voluntarily handing over their phones for inspection.

The bottom line is for drivers to understand that they face distractions constantly while driving. The important thing to remember is to minimize the distractions that we can control, like eating, grooming, interfacing with the vehicle’s information system, using a hand-held device, or even talking to a passenger, whenever possible. This is important at all times but especially in stressful or dangerous driving situations like heavy traffic or weather-related situations. Are you up to this task?


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