High technology is woven inextricably into our daily lives, but at times it may pose a more dangerous risk than we can imagine. Take today’s newer model automobiles; they are packed with electronic screens for parking, using GPS, watching video, listening to satellite radio stations or talking with others – all at the touch of a driver’s fingertips.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 80 percent of American drivers think hands-free devices are safer to use while driving than a handheld mobile phone. The NSC said more than 30 studies show hands-free devices still distract a driver’s brain and can divert up to half of what comes into view – including pedestrians, stop signs and traffic lights – from one’s attention. To bring awareness to this topic, the NSC has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said its research has found women drivers and females ages 16 to 24 are more likely than others to drive while holding phones to their ears. Driving while talking on a mobile phone increases reaction times and variations in speed. It can interfere with steering wheel control and lane changes. And, it can reduce a driver’s ability to remember and make sense of objects that come into view by 37 percent.
The NHTSA’s 2011 research showed 5 percent of drivers, on average, were holding phones to their ears; this translated to 660,000 vehicles driven by people talking on mobile devices at any given moment. In that same year, NHTSA estimates 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers.
Beyond drivers’ use of mobile phones there are even more distractions in new cars that may put people at risk on the road.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) writes that some of the popular features in new cars actually may increase mental distraction. In particular, AAA encourages drivers to reduce cognitive (brain) distraction by limiting or refraining from using most voice-based technologies; these systems include text messaging, posting on social media and calendar updating by voice command.
The organization also said it is pushing for manufacturers to continue to refine high-tech systems to make them safer for drivers to use.
“AAA is calling for developers to address key contributing factors to mental distraction including complexity, accuracy and time on task with the goal of making systems that are no more demanding than listening to the radio or an audio book,” the group said in a recent news release.
Some practical tips to prevent distracted driving, according to the AARP, include:
- Put away your phone; stash it in your console, purse or in the glove compartment, so you are not tempted to use it.
- If you have an “infotainment” system, preset your music or station playlist before setting off on the road.
- Taking an animal along for the ride? Secure your pet with a proper back seat restraint. A pet should not be “helping” you drive.
- In Arizona, drivers often take along an iced beverage to sip; make sure these cups are secured in the event you have to stop quickly.
- Set up your GPS or go over a printed street map ahead of time, so you’ll be familiar with the route.
- Eat before or after your driving is done; one-handed eating is messy and dangerous.
- Adjust the driver’s seat to fit you comfortably, especially if you are going for a long trip.
For more tips on distracted driving, CopperPoint’s library of safety resources includes the “Motor Vehicle Safety,” “Driving Essentials,” “Defensive Driving,” “Driving Skills, “Driving Dangers” and “Distracted Driving” cards. To order any of these safety cards, visit Copperpoint.com, click on “Safety & Resources” and then click on the “Safety Materials Order Form.”