Deadly Driving Distractions
Driving distractions include more than teens texting
Judith M. Taylor
Youth Development Educator
University of Illinois Extension, Springfield Extension Center|
Thinking this article's message would simply be to suggest that parents encourage teens to "cease and desist" the use of text messaging and talking on cell phones while driving, I started reviewing research. While I'll stick by that suggestion, research on driving and texting is not yet extensive and driving and talking on a cell phone was not always found to be the most distracting activity that people engage in while driving. On the other hand, the sheer number of drivers who use wireless communication make the volume of accidents from driver inattentiveness approach, and from the perspective of at least one study, surpass the risk associated with drinking and driving.
There are four types of distractions: visual--looking away from the roadway, biochemical associated with visual distraction--dialing a phone or looking at one's personal data assistant (PDA), auditory--being startled by a cell phone ringing, and cognitive--listening to the radio or talking to someone. These cognitive distractions can cause us to become "lost in thought." Think about the last time you arrived at your destination and could remember very little of the drive.
These distractions are much more critical today than when my grandfather drove 40 miles-per-hour to look at the crops on both sides of
the road and wouldn't meet another vehicle for miles. Today the traffic is faster, heavier and we have more distractions. More than 236 million people in the United States subscribed to wireless communication devices in 2007, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990.
Cell phone conversations differ from talking with a passenger. A passenger is aware of the driving situation and can even serve as an additional lookout for hazards. Once used almost solely for safety and emergencies, the average cell phone call lasted 2.15 minutes in 1995. Since then, cell phone rates have declined so much that many people use their commute time to keep in touch with family and friends.
So let's take a look at the complexity of recent findings about driving and distractions, many highlighted in Insurance Information Institute's August 2007 hot topics.
- In 2006, 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved driver inattentiveness. Reaching for a falling object, such as a falling cup, increased the risk of a crash or near-crash nine times, while talking or listening on a hand-held cell phone only increased the risk 1.3 times.
- Cell phone users were 18 percent slower in breaking and took 17 percent more time to regain speed they lost when they braked.
- Crash risk didn't vary with the type of phone (handheld or hand's free) but hand's free users had to redial calls 40 percent of the time compared to 18 percent of drivers using hand-held phones.
- Teens considered sending text messages via cell phones to be their biggest distraction with 37 percent reporting it was extremely or very distracting, followed by 20 percent who said that they were distracted by their emotional state and 19 percent who said having friends in the car was distracting.
- Nineteen percent of motorists said they text message while driving. Drivers spent up to 400 percent more time with their eyes off the road when text messaging compared to when they were not text messaging.
- In general, young drivers (under 30) have less experience and take greater risks and older drivers (over 65) have slower reaction time, making it more important for both of these groups to try to lessen distractions. Young people, take note: a 2005 study suggested that when young drivers talk on cell phones while driving, their reaction times are as slow as those of elderly drivers.
So besides wearing your seat belt, obeying the speed limit and never driving after you've consumed alcohol, please give driving your full attention!
- Pull off the road to use your cell phone or look for items in your vehicle.
- Program radio stations or CD selections prior to getting on the road.
- Never read while driving.
- Plan your trip and get directions prior to traveling.
- Don't drink, eat, shave or put on make-up while driving.