Avoiding Driver Distractions
Demanding schedules, cell
phone conversations and the many communication, information, navigation and
entertainment systems in vehicles have one thing in common. They all
contribute to making the roadways more hazardous by taking away a
driver’s attention to the all-important task of driving.
And this lack of focus increases the likelihood of
accidents. Driver inattention, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA), is one of the most common causes of traffic
According to the agency, driver distractions can be
classified into four distinct categories:
Visual (looking away from the roadway, for
Auditory (such as responding to a ringing cell
Biomechanical (manually adjusting the radio
Cognitive distraction (daydreaming).
activities can involve more than one of these components. For instance,
when a driver visually searches for a particular station on his
vehicle’s radio or performs work-related tasks while driving.
Drivers “multi-tasking” behind the wheel
has become all too common. The problem with this, point out safety
professionals, is that people overestimate their ability to do a lot of
things at the same time.
Even seemingly simple activities — such as
eating, drinking, smoking, grooming or adjusting vehicle controls —
can comprise safety by diverting a driver’s attention away from being
aware of traffic conditions and situations. It also takes concentration
away from the vehicle’s speed, steering and control, and delays a
Even an inattention of a few seconds can have serious
consequences. A driver traveling 60 miles per hour who looks away for just
two seconds, say to pick up a dropped slip of paper, will have traveled 176
feet. That is more than half the length of a football playing field.
“It is the
coincidence of driver inattention and the occurrence of unanticipated
events (e.g., curve in the road, vehicle cut in) that characterizes the
random nature of distraction-related crashes,” an NHTSA study found.
And with the increased traffic on the roadways, these types of accidents
are on the rise.
Almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of
near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds
of the event, found a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
Based on an analysis of NHTSA crash data, the major
components of inattention-related police reported crashes include:
“Looked but did not see”
Situations where the driver was drowsy or fell
most likely to be involved in rear-end collisions in which the lead vehicle
was stopped and in single-vehicle crashes,” said the analysis.
“Crashes in which the driver ‘looked but did not see’
occurred most often at intersections and in lane-changing/merging
Driving is a demanding task, yet many drivers treat it
as a secondary activity, safety officials note. Drivers need to stop doing
so many activities simultaneously while behind the wheel and make
concentrating on driving the top priority.
But that is easier said than done. As someone once
remarked: “The trouble with concentration is that you don’t
know when you’ve lost it.”
To help your drivers stay focused when driving, share
these tips for managing driver distractions,
suggested by safety officials:
When getting into a vehicle, familiarize your- self
with the vehicle controls and adjust the seat, mirrors, windows, etc.
Be sure belongings are secured so they don’t
slide around while driving.
Take care of phone calls, eating, grooming or other
activities before heading out.
Know your route.
Keep your mind on driving, pay attention and expect
Do not use communications devices, except in
emergencies. If a cell phone must be used, use a hands-free device.
If you have to make a phone call or receive an
important call, pull safely off the road.
Do not engage in distracting or emotionally charged
Never read or write while driving.
Do not try to pick up items that have fallen to the
Do not eat, drink or smoke.
David Kolman is a veteran truck communicator, keynote
speaker and long-haul trucker. Commissioned as an Honorary Colonel on the
Kentucky governor’s staff for his work promoting traffic safety, he
actively participates in trade associations and reports news and
information about the trucking industry for broadcasting and print media.
The most common driver distraction is the use of cell
phones, followed by drowsiness.
A recent survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance on
dangerous driver behavior found that 73 percent of drivers talk on cell
phones while driving.
Other commons driving distractions, in no particular
Fiddling with the radio, cassette or CD player.
Other occupants in the vehicle.
Moving objects in the vehicle.
Using wireless devices.
Eating and drinking.
Adjusting temperature controls.
Outside distractions such as accidents, vehicles
stopped by police, vehicles along the roadside, roadside advertising,
scenic views and construction areas.