Don't Be a Distracted Driver

Quick tips for staying focused on the road and avoiding accidents caused by distraction.

It’s proven that distracted drivers are more likely to get in auto accidents.

According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), which has observed more than 6 million miles of driving, using an electronic device makes the risk of a crash or near-crash 6.7 times more likely than if driving with no distractions.

And in some cases, results are fatal: 3,331 people killed in 2011 crashes that involved a distracted driver (according to CTIA, aka The Wireless Association, an industry trade group).

With this in mind, here are some things to think about as you try to reduce distractions and be a safer driver.

In general, the three big types of distraction are:

  1. taking your hands off the wheel,
  2. taking your eyes off the road, and
  3. taking your mind off the road.


Just don’t text

Texting is the most dangerous activity of all – just don’t do it! Sending or looking at a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds, the VTTI estimates, equivalent to driving the entire length of a football field at 55 miles per hour.


No phone in general

But what if you have hands-free dialing? While this does help, don’t be under the illusion that it’s safe. Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use for drivers, says the VTTI. Hands may be on the wheel, but the mind is not entirely on the road. 


And really, just don’t be stupid

If you are doing something that takes your hand, eyes, and mind off the road, that is a stage set for trouble. We have actually heard of drivers causing accidents while doing a crossword puzzle. This of course violates all three big types of distraction.


A few more quick tips

Finally, some other tips that might help to be safer in the car:

  • Encourage passengers to speak up if they see a problem. They might see a cyclist or pedestrian that you aren’t aware of, for example. We like to call the person in the front passenger seat the “co-driver,” reflecting that person’s importance in safe driving.
  • Don‘t block the mirrors or rear window with items. If it means making two trips, it’s worth the trouble, making each trip safer.
  • Don’t blast music in the car. If your sound system is too loud, you can’t hear another driver’s horn, or emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks coming behind you. You might not even hear one of your passengers yelling “look out.”
  • In general, try to eliminate any activities that distract you, not just those involving your cell phone. Resist the temptation to turn around and talk to your child in the back seat, for example, or to get something out of your briefcase.


-  Charlene Cobb, Manager of Special Services for Sunstar Paramedics, has been a Child Passenger Safety Technician for the past seven years. In her 23-year career at Sunstar, she has been a Paramedic, Training Officer, Education Coordinator and Community Education Specialist. Cobb, who was Paramedic of the Year for Pinellas County and the State of Florida in 1998, is a member of SafeKids Pinellas and serves on a national subcommittee on EMS safety.

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