Distracted Driving

February 1, 2010
You feel the buzzing in your pocket and pull out your cell phone to respond to the text. While looking down, you run into a few people. After a few quick apologies, you continue on your way. You are talking on your phone in the hallway, you bump into something and start saying “Sorry” but it happens to be a trash can. Something catches your eye on a shelf at the grocery store and you run into someone. All you have to give is a few more quick apologies. Sometimes in life, “sorry” acts as a magic word and can mend everything, and then there other times, “sorry” undoes nothing. Will “sorry” help when you crash your parents’ car because you needed to respond to a text message? What about when you kill someone’s child because you had a conversation going on the phone and ran a stop sign? Will you say “sorry” to that kid’s parents and expect things to get better? And if you had an accident because of the distraction of talking to your friend in the passenger seat, what would you say to her if you got to see her again? “Sorry you had to go to my funeral”? “I apologize for making you live with that horrible memory for the rest of your life”? “Sorry cannot begin to fix some things and preventing those things from happening by acting responsibly is the best you can do. People should not drive when talking to a passenger, using a cell phone or when they have distractions of any kind.

Talking to a passenger can immensely distract drivers. Keeping an eye on the speedometer, the road, other cars, upcoming signs and traffic lights in conjunction with holding a conversation with a passenger is quite a challenge. David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah estimates that only 2% of people can safely multitask while driving. According to his estimation, a driver has a one in fifty chance of having the skills necessary to multitask while continuing to drive safely. Quite a risk to take. To assume that one has those skills is a major hazard. Strayer’s studies suggest, however, that a driver having a passenger can actually cause less harm than talking on a cell phone.

Talking on the phone, even a hands-free set, can dangerously distract a person. When one has a passenger in the car, the passenger can at least notice anything up ahead that will require the driver’s attention. On the other hand, a person on the phone cannot see what the driver sees, and the driver may feel compelled to continue the conversation even if he or she knows a right hand turn at a stoplight is coming up which will require his or her awareness of the behaviors of oncoming traffic. Strayer’s studies showed that, when talking on a hands-free set, half of the drivers in the test failed to pull over at the designated area. With so many people using cell phones while driving, the thought of fifty percent of those drivers not paying attention to their driving should be a frightening one. Drastically worse consequences can occur than simply missing an intended turn, though.

A simple distraction is all it takes. Drinking coffee or changing the radio station may only take a second, but at that second, someone might unexpectedly run a stop sign and that distracted second will deduct from the driver’s reaction time. Focusing on driving with full attention is necessitated by the need to continue safe and legal driving and to keep an eye out for other drivers that might practice unsafe driving. According to a AAA press release, one third of all South Carolina crashes in 2006 and 2007 resulting in fatalities, property damage and injuries had distracted driving as a contributing factor.
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Also, in a 2008, for the same time period in South Carolina, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study determined that eight out of ten crashes and 65% of near-crashes occurred when the use of a cell phone distracted a driver. Factoring in other possible distractions would make the numbers in the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s results even higher.
Often, with the rise of an action’s popularity, the social acceptance of it also rises. However, even if something has a society’s acceptance, it may not be the right thing. Many people do drive with distractions but the higher number of distracted drivers only increases the danger. And while, unfortunately, people have begun to accept such behaviors, distracted driving increases the possibility of accidents and fatalities, and murder has not yet become socially acceptable. Difficulties arise with the enforcement of laws against such common and widespread behaviors and while maybe that fact will one day change, for now, practicing careful driving and the use of good sense on the road can start us on the road to improvement.

Drivers should use caution and give their full attention to the road. They should reduce or avoid the influence of talkative passengers, cell phone use and other distractions which interrupt careful driving. Together, through such careful actions, we can reduce accidents and the social acceptability of harmful driving practices. The next time you travel on the road as a driver, please give your full attention to driving and the next time you travel as a passenger, I hope you will allow your driver the safety of having an environment that will lend itself to careful driving practices.

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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

nancya said...
Jan. 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm
when was this written, I have a student that would like to cite it
Kageorge said...
Oct. 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm
This is a wonderful article! I am writing a paper and would like to cite to some information I found in the article. What was the date on which you wrote this?
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