I’ve written columns devoted to driver distraction many times over the course of a decade or so. And writing about it can evidently only raise awareness, since it has remained rampant despite reporting by me and countless others.
While drivers have always been distracted by rubbernecking at roadside happenings, fiddling with vehicle controls, eating, or grooming, mobile phones have created new heights of inattention.
It might be perceived that it’s mainly teens misusing their devices by Snapchatting, Instagramming and texting with one another while driving. But studies show that while all age groups are perpetrators, it’s mainly 25-50 year-old drivers committing those offenses.
In surveys, many parents admit to looking at texts or using GPS while driving. Reading or sending texts are at the worst end of the distraction spectrum, typically taking drivers’ eyes off the roadway for intervals of around four seconds at a time. Obviously, a lot is missed during those “blind” moments, especially in congested areas or at highway speed.
While mobile devices have become the newest culprit for distraction, the old ones listed above are still causing plenty havoc of their own. In fact, with all the publicity placing emphasis on cell phones, the dangers of older distractions like turning to talk to a back seat passenger, tending to children, or shooing a buzzing bee are regularly ignored. It’s also impossible for law enforcement to cite drivers for more “innocent” behaviors like those, but they can issue tickets for resulting law violations, negligent driving or even negligent homicide.
Any distraction, no matter how short, can be disastrous when occurring at a crucial moment.
With an average of eight driver deaths per day attributed to distraction, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declared the deadly behavior an epidemic. After seeing the number of such deaths nearly double in 2016, many police and sheriff agencies are raising awareness and education via social media, enforcement, campaigns and workshops.
Though some distraction behaviors may be difficult for law enforcement to discover, they are getting very good at spotting drivers with phones to their ears. Most officers sight and cite multiple offenders on each shift. Also, it’s good to remember that there is plenty of cognitive distraction even when talking “hands free.” If you don’t believe it, try following a television program during a phone conversation. Humans are not as adept multitaskers as we may think.
The outcome of distraction regularly turns deadly. A Northwest trauma nurse, Geri Bartz, has seen the effects firsthand. She recalls cutting prom dresses and tuxedos off crash victims, working helplessly to save children after their vital signs have dropped, and hearing patients cry out for family members who have died in a crash.
Bartz’s report has “hit home” with drivers like Oregon parent Christine Reed who has an 18 year-old daughter, Jasmine. Over the years, Jasmine has seen her peers injured in crashes and heard of others dying, but she said Bartz’s account gave her a “realistic view of what happens.
Christine Reed said, “People are afraid of terrorism and viruses, but the sad truth is, they are more likely to die from a text that says ‘LOL’ than any of those.
She added, “This is my reality. All I need is a few people to say that this doesn’t have to be our culture anymore.” Wise words and “food” for thought.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.