Avoiding Driver Distractions

July 1, 2007
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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 crashes.
According to the agency, driver distractions can be classified into four distinct categories:
•  Visual (looking away from the roadway, for example).
•  Auditory (such as responding to a ringing cell phone)
•  Biomechanical (manually adjusting the radio volume).
•  Cognitive distraction (daydreaming).
Many driver-distracting 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 driver’s reaction.
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 and NHTSA.
Based on an analysis of NHTSA crash data, the major components of inattention-related police reported crashes include:
•  “Distraction”
•  “Looked but did not see”
•  Situations where the driver was drowsy or fell asleep.
“Distraction was 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 situations.”
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:
Before driving
•  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.

While driving
•  Keep your mind on driving, pay attention and expect the unexpected.
•  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 conversations.
•  Never read or write while driving.
•  Do not try to pick up items that have fallen to the floor.
•  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.
Typical distractions
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 order, include:
•  Fiddling with the radio, cassette or CD player.
•  Other occupants in the vehicle.
•  Moving objects in the vehicle.
•  Using wireless devices.
•  Eating and drinking.
•  Personal grooming.
•  Adjusting temperature controls.
•  Smoking.  
•  Outside distractions such as accidents, vehicles stopped by police, vehicles along the roadside, roadside advertising, scenic views and construction areas.

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