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Distracted driving

A car driving down a scenic wintery road while the driver resists being taken in by the wonderous surroundings and concentrates on driving safely

Looking around causes most distractions

If you've ever driven down the road grumbling about the distracted drivers on their cell phones-while admiring the scenery-you've been guilty of being the same kind of distracted driver you're complaining about.

That's right. According to a University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center study of the top 10 driver distractions, looking at things outside the car is the number one distraction for most drivers.

Adjusting the radio or changing a CD is much more likely to take a driver's attention away from the road at a crucial time than other distractions.

There's no doubt that new technologies like talking or texting on cell phones are distracting drivers, but the old distractions are still there. The results of this study call into question whether anyone should be doing anything in their car except for putting both hands on the wheel, looking straight ahead and driving as carefully as a driver education student.

Despite the potential for serious injuries, even death, as a result of an auto accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says driver inattention is a contributing factor in over 50 percent of all crashes.

Americans, NHTSA adds, see driving as a simple, everyday task, especially when they're in a familiar environment. So we take on other simple tasks while we're at the wheel. Meanwhile our highways are getting more congested as the number of drivers and vehicles grows. That increasing congestion makes driving more tedious - and more dangerous.

Added to that are:

  • A fast paced world where speed and multi-tasking are valued.
  • People who are overwhelmed with tasks for work and home.
  • Technological advances that provide us with a variety of electronic devices to use while driving including radios, CDs, phones, faxes, video, GPS devices and computers.

The solution isn't simple, but education and training to increase awareness of the seriousness of inattentive driving and the risks it poses are the remedies most frequently suggested by driving safety experts.

Legislation is also a possibility. In some states, engaging in any type of distraction while driving is illegal. Cell phone use while driving is now illegal in five states and 11 states ticket for texting while driving. However that won't help with drivers who are distracted by a dog on the sidewalk or the scenery.

Start your own personal campaign against distracted driving

Every individual can help stem the tide of distracted driving and the resulting accidents that happen. Here's what each driver needs to do:

  • Limit your interaction with your passenger - even talking can be distracting.
  • Keep your eyes on the road.
  • Keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Stay focused on the road and pull off to refresh yourself if you start to daydream or if you find yourself getting tired.
  • Switch drivers regularly on long trips.
  • Don't drive when you're angry or upset.
  • Don't rubberneck or try to view the scenery as you speed by it.
  • Pull over before you use your cell phone.

Limiting the distractions you respond to is the first step toward safer travel.

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