Tuesday, April 17, 2007

DWD - Driving While Distracted

This was a time, not so long ago, when people only did one thing while driving - they drove. They did not try to find they’re favorite radio station, or stuff a Big Mac into their face, or read the newspaper, or talk and text on their phones… they drove, that’s all. Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry remarks, “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”

Besides being mathematically impossible (only slightly less than half can be “above-average”), it is laughable. Just one short jaunt through town will reveal just how good “average” is and how “bad” the drivers who profess to be above that mark actually are. Perhaps “bad” isn’t the correct term. Maybe if all distractions to the act of driving were removed, many of these accidents waiting to happen would actually be competent operators.

Full disclosure? My driving record is nothing to crow about, and I have had my share mishaps - including those brought about by distraction. Driving, for some of us (most of us?), seems to be second nature… almost part of the autonomic nervous system. Indeed, it seems as if we were born to drive. It’s in our genes. We have become so comfortable behind the wheel that it makes perfect sense to use that otherwise wasted time doing something productive.

According to a 2005 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes happen within three seconds of some form of driver distraction. Although using cell phones was the most common distraction, it is not the only one. And the driver’s age has much to do with it. Eighteen to 20 year olds are four times more likely to be in a crash due to distraction as drivers over the age of 35.

I remember a news story about four bicyclists, two couples, riding on a road in the foothills just south of San Jose, Calif. It was a beautiful spring or summer weekend day on a paved road used frequently by recreational cyclists. It must have been 20 years ago now; cell phones weren’t around, compact disks were just emerging. A young girl of 19 or 20 was rounding a turn in a Chevy Blazer on the same road approaching the group of cyclists, but she didn’t know it. She was reaching around behind her seat, fishing for a cassette tape to pop into the stereo.

Seconds later, two cyclists were dead and the other two seriously injured. The driver was not a “bad” person and perhaps not even a “bad” driver. But in that instance of inattention, two lives were cut short and three others permanently altered. It only took a split second. Examples of such tragedy are abundant. Although there are numerous new gadgets and gizmos to take out attention away from the road, it’s not the distraction that is responsible - it’s the distracted.

Laws and proposed laws to regulate cell phone use while driving are all the rage. Let’s assume these laws are successful in reducing the accidents that can be attributable to cell phone distractions. What about the next distraction du jour? Ultimately, it is the operator that should be held responsible. The same laws that apply to drunk driving could be applied to any distraction. Statistically, there is little difference. To those killed by distraction, there is none.


kenju said...

You are correct on all points, but I don't hold out much hope for people to drive without being distracted. With the advent of GPS, DVD players, cell phones, etc. in cars today, we will have distractions galore. Children too, don't forget. They are one of the biggest distractions in cars.

X said...

Sad to say...but these laws don't cover other distrctions - iPods, GPS systems in the sqanky cars, even radios. Unless you're Zen-like while driving, you have to put up with outside distractions as well! Ok, now I'm just picturing a golden Buhdda driving a pick-up truck... :)

Lee Ann said...

You are right, distractions can turn even the best driver into a terrible one.

I am a good driver! :D

Anonymous said...

The only accident I caused was a rear-ender, (I hit the wagon), for the kid in the backseat putting plastic into the mouth and my fears of suffocation. I was traveling about 5 mph - I knew the wagon was stopped there. Luckily, everyone involved was fine.

I'll push a button while driving, that's about it, and no, I don't have to look or fumble around to find it. I pull over for stuff I can't reach but must have or look at (ie, maps!)

But laws don't stop these things. Consequences do. "Normal" people break the laws every day.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

mike, strange that you should write this - just this morning i saw someone nearly hit a woman walking her dog whilst texting and driving, then as she looked back ran straight into the back of a car.... no more words needed i guess

Bobkat said...

I have been waxing lyrical about the exact same thing for a while now. We have all sorts of laws in this country to do with this in order to apparently give the police 'powers' to stop people using their mobile phone etc. The fact is though that we already have a perfectly good law which is called 'Driving without due care and attention'. It puts the responsibility firmly where it should be, with the driver. There will always be distractions outside the car, but the driver can control where they focus their attention. A couple of years ago a doctor was jailed for manslaughter in the UK for killing someone while driving without due care and attention. He had simply looked away for a split second to get a sweet from his jacket pocket on the passenger seat of his car.

Carli N. Wendell said...

I agree that you can't write a law for each and every distraction. I only hope that every single person that drives irresponsibly and causes bodily harm to another human being is held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. As a longtime pedestrian, I am so sick and tired of drivers too distracted to even stop at a stop sign or turn on a turn signal.

Anna said...

I can hardly drive here as it is! Im learning to drive "British style".....the otheside of the car, otherside of the road...it is crazy. I am more focused because I have to be. Also I drive a stick shift so there isn't much room for anything else in my hand...

I must say that my biggest distraction while driving is my kids...bar none. :)

Let's face it, a car is a weapon, no doubt about it.

Helene said...

my driving sucks, but my record does not reflect that. I have a great record... (undeserved!)

Did you know that the government even studies roadkill stats!!! lmao... I googled roadkill for my last post and came up with the graphs! lol

Happy Wed Mike!

Lisa said...

excellent post... And while I agree with, i'm like some of the others in that I don't see that much will ever happen to change things. People will always find new distractions...

As for me... I have a hard enough time talking and walking at the same time.. haha.. I won't even answer my cell while I'm driving. If its an important call, I'll pull over into the nearest parking lot...

Snaggle Tooth said...

Good distinction made, it's not the specific device, it's split attention and loss of vigilance-

I've never been behind a good driver seen on the c-phone once (even happened today)!

One time on a highway in CT, I was almost wiped out by a person with a Great-Dane dog jumping around the car- That's distraction!

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