Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from the road (Multi-tasking). Every day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,153 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.
When most of us think of distracted driving, we think of texting and driving and we often overlook other dangerous distractions common in our lives. We ignore talking on the phone (whether it be hands-free or not), we ignore eating and driving, we ignore distracting conversations or searching for notes in the seat next to us, and we embrace the use of GPS technology (another electronic devise taking our eyes and minds from the road). The truth is that we are surrounded by distractions, and distractions once thought of as benign have been proven to be dangerous.
Remember the big “hands-free” cell phone movement a few years back? Fourteen states now have a hands-free law on the books. Hands-free cell phone laws address two types of distractions: visual and manual distractions. However, there is a third type of distraction that “hands-free laws” do not address: cognitive distraction – taking your mind off the road.
- Cognitive distraction occurs whenever a drivers mind is not on the road. (Talking, texting, daydreaming . . .)
- Visual distraction occurs whenever a driver looks away from the road. (Checking GPS, looking for a CD, reading an email.)
- Manual distraction occurs whenever a driver takes a hand off the wheel. (Eating, searching for that CD, or looking for change for the toll.)
Recent studies show that “hands-free” cell phone use does not actually eliminate the cognitive distraction associated with using a cell phone while driving. Contrary to longstanding common belief, the human brain cannot multitask. Multitasking involves using the same cognitive mechanisms simultaneously for different purposes. It is the mental equivalent of speaking, humming, and whistling at the same time. We can’t do it. Instead, the human brain can switch back and forth quickly between tasks, but we cannot actually perform two tasks at once.
Cognitive distraction can be as dangerous as visual distraction. Distracteddriving.nsc.org tells of an interesting story involving cognitive distraction:
“In January 2004, at 4:00 p.m., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-year-old woman ran a red light while talking on a cell phone. The driver’s vehicle slammed into another vehicle crossing with the green light directly in front of her. The vehicle she hit was not the first car through the intersection, it was the third or fourth. The police investigation determined the driver never touched her brakes and was traveling 48 mph when she hit the other vehicle. The crash cost the life of a 12-year-old boy. Witnesses told investigators that the driver was not looking down, not dialing the phone, or texting. She was observed looking straight out the windshield talking on her cell phone as she sped past four cars and a school bus stopped in the other southbound lane of traffic. Researchers have called this crash a classic case of inattention blindness caused by the cognitive distraction of a cell phone conversation.”
Multi-tasking and driving is distracted driving. Texting and driving is dangerous, but so are many other forms of driver multi-tasking:
- Eating and driving
- Talking and driving (including hands-free)
- Unrestrained pets
- Using GPS
- Searching for music
- Reading email
- Searching for change
Be safe. Be aware of the three forms of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. Understand that distracted driving is any type of multitasking on the road. We know it is tempting to pick up that phone call or to look at the accident after having waited thirty minutes for your turn. We all do it occasionally, but that does not mean we should justify it. We should strive to eliminate these distractions. In the abstract, this is an interesting topic. On the road, it may literally prove to be a matter of life or death.
If you or a loved one has been injured or died as a result of distracted driving, call us. We offer consultations free of charge. (804) 485-2555