One could argue that, for most people, we become worse drivers the more we drive. Specifically, we become complacent. We forget how dangerous driving is and it becomes just another part of our day. That’s because the better we become at a skill, the more likely we’re able to do it without much thought. That’s called automaticity. People get so careless that the car can become a time and place to get things done, whether it’s eating breakfast on the go or calling a friend. Essentially, distracted driving happens, and it’s one of the most dangerous habits that any driver can fall into.
The Car is Meant for one thing . . .
Driving. It’s not your on-the-road office, breakfast table, or vanity mirror. Many people think they’re skilled enough as drivers to handle “multi-tasking” behind the wheel, but consider this: in 2014, 3,179 people died and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. We drive in an environment that we can’t control, and distracted driving keeps us from reacting to environmental changes.
What is Distracted Driving?
To define exactly what we’re discussing, distracted driving is any activity that diverts a person’s attention from the task of driving. These types of distractions include:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving falls into three buckets: visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. A visual distraction is the most basic: not watching where you’re going. Manual distraction is one that involves taking one or both of your hands away from the steering wheel, like drinking coffee on your way to work. Lastly, a cognitive distraction is allowing your mind to wander from the task of driving, even though both hands are on the wheel and you’re looking at the road.
How Dangerous is it?
To truly understand how dangerous distracted driving can be, let’s use an example: texting and driving. Texting behind the wheel is especially dangerous because it is a visual, manual, and cognitive distraction rolled up into one. When traveling at 55 mph, if you look at your phone for even 2 seconds, you cover the length of almost half of a football field essentially blindfolded. It’s amazing it doesn’t cause more accidents than it does.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
Let’s say you’re the model of a perfect driver. You never divert your attention and always keep your hands on the wheel. You don’t so much as utter a word to a passenger when you’re driving (I know this is an impossible standard). Even if you’re safe, you share the road with people who aren’t. Thus, it’s just as important for you to drive defensively as it is for you to avoid becoming distracted yourself. Look out for the tell-tale signs that someone is distracted behind the wheel:
- Weaving within, or even outside of their lane
- Driving slowly
- Hesitations approaching intersections or stoplights
- Driver looking down at their lap
- Not using turn signals and having trouble completing turns
Moreover, use the LLLC Defensive Driving Principles™. They’ll not only help you avoid distracted drivers, but also keep you from becoming distracted yourself. Look Ahead with an eye-lead time of 15 seconds for anyone exhibiting the behaviors listed above. Look Around by shifting your point of focus every two to five seconds to keep your mind from wandering. Leave Room around your vehicle to make-up for the mistakes of other distracted drivers on the road. Lastly, Communicate with your signals, lights, and horns in the hopes of gaining the attention of drivers to let them know what you’re going to do. Actively thinking about these four principles keeps you focused on driving and aware of drivers who aren’t.