Americans drive 3.2 trillion miles per year. Over that same time period, U.S. consumers send 2.2 trillion text messages. The problem is that many people combine the mutually exclusive activities. The result is as deadly as it is dangerous. In fact, distracted driving led to 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries last year. Most dogs I know prefer to focus on one task at a time – preferably eating.
To raise awareness about the consequences of texting and driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) devotes the month of April to Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The 2019 campaign slogan is: U Drive. U Text. U Pay. In our ongoing efforts to promote and share safety-related content,we begin a special two-part series about the dangers of distracted driving in recognition of the NHTSA campaign. Like most working Dalmatians, I travel mostly on foot and fire truck.
There is Not One but Many Ways Drivers Are Distracted
“Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel” is as profound as it is elementary. Unfortunately, most Americans pride themselves on their ability to multi-task. And, sadly, that proclivity has made its way to the open roads. In fact, Reader’s Digest reports that police officers have ticketed drivers for attempting all of the following tasks while operating motor vehicles:
- Changing clothes, including diapers
- Playing the piano
- Knitting, crocheting and sewing
- Playing with kids and/or pets
- Eating (everything from hamburgers and yogurt to soup)
- Applying makeup
- Putting their feet up
- Talking on the phone
- Petting their dog (For the record, I endorse this activity, though not while you’re driving.)
The NHTSA identifies three distinct types of driver distractions:
- Visual Tasks
Are anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road, such as, checking a GPS monitor or map.
- Manual Tasks
This category encompasses activities such as reaching for a cell phone, eating, drinking, cleaning glasses or anything else that results in the driver removing one or both hands from the steering wheel.
- Cognitive Tasks
Anything that requires drivers to think about something other than driving would fit into this task.
Breaking It Down
Texting while driving receives the most attention because it requires all three types of tasks. However, digital devices are far from the only threat to on-the-road focus. A distraction includes anything that diverts the driver’s attention from the primary tasks of navigating the vehicle and responding to critical events. In my case, this would definitely include bacon, which is always a welcome distraction.
There are two basic components are used to qualify a distraction/safety problem:
- The attentional demands of the distracting task – the amount of resources (visual, cognitive, manual) required to perform the task.
- The frequency with which drivers choose to multitask.
Combining these two concepts, even if it is a simple task, pose greater risk if the person performs the task most of the time they are behind the wheel. Just a wild idea; if you want to eat, pull over. If you need to text, wait until you arrive. The most important thing is to arrive alive.
We will conclude this two-part series by examining sources and ways to avoid all three forms of distraction. Read part two on or after April 9, 2019.
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