Diverting your attention from the road for even a split second could be the difference between life and death. April is Driving Distracted Awareness Month, a serious issue considering that according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHSTA), 16% of fatal crashes in 2009 involved distracted driving.
Distracted driving is considered anything that could divert a driver’s attention away from the road. According to a NHTSA and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study, the main actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle crashes are:
1. Cell phone use – Today’s cell phones can do so much more than just talk and text; you can search the web, play around with apps and games, even find a date and pay your bills. By far the most dangerous distraction is texting. So far, 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, while 9 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. According to distraction.gov, texting while driving takes your eyes of the road for 4.6 seconds and makes you 23% more likely to crash. As far as talking on the cell phone, the latest research indicates that the mental distraction of having a hands-free phone conversation causes drivers to miss visual and audio cues that typically help drivers avoid a crash.
While most new cars today—whether it be a Ford Focus, Toyota Camry, or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class—typically come equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, driving without conversing on the phone is your safest bet. You can avoid the temptation to use your cell phone while driving by leaving it in the trunk. If that’s too extreme for you, you can get an app such as Txt u L8r, an Android and Blackberry app that when activated, sends an automated reply to anyone who has texted you notifying them that you are unavailable, then proceeds to read the text to you out loud so you don’t miss any urgent messages. DriveSafe.ly is a similar app for iPhone users. Many new vehicles come with voice-activated technology, such as Ford’s Sync system, which can make calls, play music, news updates and more. That said, just back in December 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board, a key safety panel, recommended that governments ban all cellphone and internet use by drivers .
2. Reaching for a moving object inside the vehicle – A bouncing ball, kids fighting in the back, a cell phone that slipped between the car seat, you name it. Looking down or looking around, reaching under the seats… all of it takes your eyes and attention off the road. If it’s really that important, then you should just pull over.
If you find yourself turning your head too often to talk to the kids/break up their fights, consider a car with an observation/conversation mirror, that gives you a deeper look than your rearview. It comes standard on the Chrysler Town & Country and is available on other minivans such as the Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, and Toyota Sienna.
3. Looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle – Rubbernecking, taking in the beautiful scenery for a bit too long, checking out the hot sports car to your left, musing at the state fair to your right… all these activities can divert your attention from the road.
While it’s safest to keep your eyes forward, and on the road, car technology such as lane departure warning systems found on many new cars today will alert you when you are veering outside your lane and some accident–mitigation systems can even apply the brakes if you the car detects an imminent crash. Nissan was the first to market with lane departure warning technology in 2005 when it debuted in the Infiniti FX and later in the Infiniti M45. Every year since, more and more new cars come equipped with these technologies, such as the Ford Fusion (2013 MY),&n bsp;Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, BMW 5-Series, Kia Optima and many more.
4. Reading – Whether you’re reading an email, a text, Facebook status updates or a chapter of the Hunger Games, it’s just bad, bad, bad form and very dangerous. If you want to catch up on your reading, consider having your book read to you via a CD or mp3 player. If you’re driving a car, you shouldn’t be flipping pages or scrolling through an email.
5. Putting on makeup – Perhaps you’re in a rush to get to work, a job interview or a date and you think it’s fine to dab on a little rouge or apply mascara while you’re driving – bad, horrible, terrible idea. If your attention is on beautifying your face, it’s not on the task of driving. Getting your lipstick on straight is not a matter of life and death, but driving safely is, so choose wisely.
Learn more about distracted driving by visiting distracteddriving.gov.