Each time you take your focus off the road, even if just for a split second, you’re putting your life and the lives of others in danger. An emerging and deadly epidemic on the nation’s roads, distracted driving-related crashes caused at least 5,500 deaths and nearly 450,000 injuries in 2009. However, since many local law enforcement agencies don’t routinely document distraction factors in crash reports, safety officials believe the numbers are actually much higher.
“Driving a car is a very complex task,” says Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which estimates that distractions are associated with 15 percent to 25 percent of crashes at all levels. “It requires your complete attention. All it takes is a glance away for more than two seconds and you can get into serious trouble.”
People have been caught doing all sorts things that distract them behind the wheel — from eating an ice cream cone to talking on a cell phone to driving drunk — but one of the worst distractions might be something parents do every day: driving with kids in the backseat of the car.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Australian researchers found that children are 12 times more distracting to the driver than talking on a cell phone while at the wheel. According to their findings, the average parent takes their eyes off the road for a staggering three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.
The good news is that distracted driving crashes can be prevented.
“The first thing I would tell you is to put your electronic device away,” Harsha says. “Just don’t use it. All it takes is a glance that’s longer than two seconds for you to get into a crash.”
Some distractions can’t be eliminated, but most can be managed. For example, turn your cellphone off or silence it before you start the engine. Secure your pets properly before you begin to drive. Don’t eat or drink on the road. Set your GPS before starting the engine.
According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving is associated with the highest risk of all cellphone-related tasks. The research found that text messaging causes drivers to take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds over a six-second interval. That means at 55 miles per hour, a texting driver would travel the length of a football field without looking at the road.