Don’t drive distracted

One text or call could wreck it all: Avoid distractions while driving.

Driver distractions have joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. A distraction is any activity that could divert your attention away from the primary task of driving, including but not limited to:

  • Using a mobile communication device, for example, talking or texting
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player
  • Looking away from the road
  • Using a navigation system
  • Talking to passengers
  • Eating and drinking
  • Watching a video
  • Child care
  • Grooming
  • Reading

The National Safety Council estimates that 21 percent of all crashes in 2010 involved talking on cell phones, accounting for 1.1 million crashes that year. It also estimates at least 3 percent of crashes involve texting.

Many drivers mistakenly believe talking on a hands-free cell phone is safer than talking on a handheld device. Hands-free devices are often seen as a solution to the risks of driver distraction because they help eliminate two obvious risks:

  • The visual distraction of looking away from the road
  • The manual distraction of removing your hands from the steering wheel

However, a third type of distraction, a cognitive distraction, can occur when using cell phones while driving: taking your mind off the road. Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.

Multitasking is a myth. Medical research has shown that the human brain does not perform two tasks at the same time. The brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between a primary and a secondary task.

When the brain is experiencing an increased workload, information processing slows, and a driver is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards in time to avoid a crash. The 2010 Illinois Text Messaging Ban states that a person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device to compose, send or read an electronic message. There are exceptions for emergencies and public safety officials.

Cell phone distracted-driving crashes are tragic in part because they are so preventable. Families are forever changed, as you can see in this video, when a loved one is suddenly taken from our lives.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and you can find a variety of related free downloadable materials, including an infographic, posters and videos, at the National Security Council website. Join the NSC in observing Distracted Driving Awareness Month and take the pledge to drive cell-free.

Although Fermilab prohibits the use of cell phones while driving motor vehicles to include hands-free devices, there have been both complaints and tickets issued for driving while using an electronic communication device. Pull over to a safe place to talk on the phone, text or e-mail. For more on traffic safety at Fermilab, view this Traffic Safety Subcommittee Web page or this Business Services security Web page. You can also read the course material for the Traffic Safety Awareness Training Course.

J.B. Dawson