Driving and Distractions

You might have sat behind her at a stoplight, a college student whose morning trip to campus goes something like this: She’s juggling a cup of steaming cappuccino in one hand and a muffin in the other, alternately fixing her hair and dabbing on makeup. As the light changes, she’s flipping radio stations to catch the NPR headlines, then traffic and weather, and finally some wake-up music. Meanwhile, she’s cramming for a quiz with her textbook propped up on the steering column. Her car, as if on auto-pilot, finds its way to the campus parking lot—this time.

Is she a master in time management or a major road hazard? 

You can congratulate yourself if you never use a cell phone while driving, but what about other distractions? While driving, do you find yourself…

  • Reaching for something in the back seat?
  • Having an absorbing conversation with a passenger?
  • Attending to a child or pet?
  • Letting your eyes settle on a clever billboard, a snazzy car, or beautiful scenery?
  • Allowing your mind to wander, not realizing where you are or how you got there?

You might say, “Yes, but just for a second.” But in a split second, accidents happen. Distractions and inattention are the underlying causes of most crashes and near crashes. Research indicates that types of distractions vary by age, with drivers under 50 most often distracted by cell phone use, those ages 50+ distracted by eating and drinking, and by outside objects and events.

The real problem with cell phone use is not whether both hands are on the wheel, but the brain’s limited ability to process unrelated, complex stimuli simultaneously. Attention cannot be divided. A person may think he can talk and drive at the same time, but in fact his brain is switching attention rapidly between tasks. The mental switch takes only a fraction of a second–about the time it takes for an accident to happen.

Keeping focused on the road is a challenge because today’s cars encourage multitasking. The driver’s seat is a lounger, complete with beverage holders, electric tilt, and outlets for electronics, all within arm’s reach. The GPS gives you directions, while books on tape or the CD collection in your visor pocket entertain you. You’re driving a mini office, a library, a breakfast nook, and a media center on wheels!

Distractions while on the road are hard to avoid, but responsible drivers will limit unnecessary activities that divert their attention. A wandering mental moment could find you jolted to attention by a blaring horn or screeching tires. So keep your eyes on the road and your mind on your driving.

To learn additional ideas for maintaining driving wellness for safe driving for a lifetime, order or download a free copy of You and Your Car: A Guide to Driving Wellness by visiting www.thehartford.com/lifetime.

Submitted by: Roach Howard Smith & Barton

Visit: www.rhsb.com