While as a society we’re becoming more aware of the dangers associated with texting and driving, it’s also important to keep in mind the many other distractions that can affect a driver’s concentration. For teen drivers especially, distractions are a major safety issue. Research shows that the “Under-20” age group has the greatest amount of distracted drivers. A March 2015 CNN special report also shared some surprising facts about habits common among teen drivers, including this:
More than one fourth of the participants said they had changed their clothes or shoes while driving.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. We encourage you to review the information below with the teen drivers – and teen passengers – in your lives so they are fully aware of what is considered a distraction and how important it is to drive distraction-free. Also, be sure to make driving distraction-free a habit every time YOU get behind the wheel. Being a good role model is one of the best ways to help others develop safe driving practices.
The facts: distracted driving & teens
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in America. Even without distractions, teen drivers are at particular risk for crashes due to their lack of driving experience, immature decision-making skills and tolerance for higher risks. A study of 3,000 teen drivers published in the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security, cited in a March 2015 CNN special report, found the following:
- Distracted driving is at an all-time high among young drivers.
- While most teens understand the risks of texting while driving, they are less aware of other distractions like eating, drinking and talking on the phone.
- Twenty-seven percent of the respondents had changed clothes or shoes while driving. Some even worked on homework while driving.
- Females are more likely to use a cellphone while driving and males are more likely to look away from the road while talking to others in the car.
What is considered a distraction?
Driving is a task that involves our hands, eyes and thoughts (i.e., manual, visual and cognitive skills). Anything that divides our attention or causes us to take our hands off the wheel, our eyes off the road or our focus away from driving is considered a distraction. While texting is one of the most serious forms of distraction as it involves all three (manual, visual and cognitive), any type of distraction can pose a serious risk and should be avoided.
DRIVE SMAFT Virginia, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the safety of Virginia’s roadways, considers the following to be distractions:
- Using a cell phone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Grooming (putting on makeup, brushing hair, shaving, dressing, putting on shoes, etc.)
- Reading (including maps)
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player
- ANY other task that affects a driver’s concentration
Hands-free is NOT considered risk-free
While technology has been created to make texting while driving easier, it still does not make it safe. Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit. Simply put, talking on a phone takes the driver’s attention from the task at hand: driving.
Conversations that are emotional or intense can further increase the risk of driver distraction and talking to passengers in the car can be distracting as well. A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report found that 15 percent of teen crashes involved a driver chatting with one or more passengers.
Regarding the use of navigation systems, Corri Miller Hobbs, Safe Kids Virginia Program Coordinator, advises the following: “As advocates, we acknowledge we aren’t going to get people to stop using all technology. Using a voice-activated navigation system is best and programming should be completed before driving.”
Be part of the solution
According to DRIVE SMART Virginia, recognizing the importance of living and practicing a safety philosophy is the first step in being part of the solution to the distracted driving epidemic. In a recent DRIVE SMART Virginia article, safety specialists recommend that all drivers take these steps to keep full attention on the task of driving:
Change your ways. Analyze your own driving behavior for dangerous distracted driving habits and work to eliminate them.
Make a plan. Before you put the keys in the ignition, know where you’re going. Have your GPS or music programmed. If you’re traveling with children, make sure they’ve got what they need nearby.
Manage your time. Plan your day so that you’ve got plenty of time to reach your destination so that you’re not tempted to multi-task or drive aggressively.
Don’t let your DRIVE time become your DOWN time. As a society, we’ve gotten into a habit of finding it acceptable to perform tasks secondary to driving while driving. When you’re behind the wheel driving is the only thing to be focused on.
Scan the roadway to make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings and of other driver actions at all times.
Try to avoid driving when you’re tired or upset. It’s important that you are able to focus and concentrate on driving.
Pull over if you need to do something that will take your eyes and/or mind off the task of driving.
Commit to placing your wireless device in the glove compartment or back seat while driving.
Especially for teens
Making sure your loved ones are well informed about the risks of distracted driving and that your family has well-defined rules for what not to do when driving (or when riding with an inexperienced driver) can help ensure safer driving behaviors among teens. For more on sharing this message with teens:
AAA Tips for Cell Phone Safety & Managing Distractions
AAA Distracted Driving Tip Card
DRIVE SMART Virginia Buckle Up Phone Down Brochure
DRIVE SMART Virginia Online Safety Pledge
Keys to Drive: AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety
Safety tips from DRIVE SMART Virginia
- Download an app designed to inhibit the use of cell phones while your car is in motion.
- Silence your phone when you are driving so that you are not tempted to answer it.
Information and resources provided by Corri Miller-Hobbs, Registered Nurse and Safe Kids Virginia Program Coordinator