April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month – a month-long effort to recognize and eliminate preventable deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving. Over 40,000 people were killed last year on our nation’s roadways and many were the result of distracted driving. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 80% of accidents and 16% of highway deaths are the result of distracted drivers.
What is distracted driving? It’s anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road and causes them to pay attention to something other than the critical tasks associated with driving. That includes a variety of things that can divert our attention – talking on a cell phone, texting, operating a dashboard infotainment system, using a GPS device, and a myriad of other distractions.
While many drivers insist they can multitask while driving, the simple truth is they cannot. The human mind is not wired to do simultaneous multiple tasks well. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. ANY non-driving activity is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing and causing damage, injury, or even death. Texting is the most alarming distraction because of the time involved – taking your eyes off the road at 55MPH for five seconds to read or send a text allows your vehicle to travel the length of a football field with essentially no one at the wheel.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that younger drivers are overwhelmingly more likely than older drivers to text message and talk on cell phones while driving. However, the proportion of drivers aged 35–44 who reported talking on cell phones while driving is not significantly lower than those drivers aged 18–24 who report doing so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving can be broken down into three main types of distraction:
Visual: taking your eyes off the road
Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
Cognitive: taking your mind off the task of driving
While texting is a distraction that immediately comes to mind for many people, something as simple and non-technical as eating is a major distracted-driving activity. Soups, sandwiches, unwieldy burgers, and hot drinks can make steering a car impossible. Although the dangers of eating while driving are apparent, drivers ignore them repeatedly, accounting for many crashes and near-misses.
Any non-driving activity you engage in — including talking or texting on your phone, checking social media, eating, and fiddling with the navigation or infotainment system — is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing. Let’s all use Distracted Driver Awareness Month to remind ourselves and our loved ones to choose to drive safely and distraction-free.