The 7 Habits of Highly Distracted Drivers
Tips to keep your eyes and attention on the road, where they belong
By: Steve English / 04.10.2011
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The 7 Habits of Highly Distracted Drivers
Distracted driving is a serious and growing problem on North
American roads. A recent joint study by the U.S.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia
Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly 80 percent of
accidents and 65 percent of near-accidents were the result of some
form of driver inattention.
Like it or not, your brain simply isn't built to handle more
than one task at a time. And when you're behind the wheel, safe and
responsible driving should always command your complete attention.
Below, we countdown the seven most common offences committed by
distracted drivers, plus pointers on how you can avoid committing
them yourself. Tip #1: Pull over before reading.
7. Reaching for something
Newton's First Law of Motion says it best: an object in motion
tends to stay in motion. Loose items in a moving car are bound to
be distracting to a driver, especially if they fall onto the floor.
Reaching for a moving object increases your risk of accident by up
to nine times.
Before you put the car in drive, safely secure all your personal
belongings and avoid the temptation to reach for them while you're
moving. The dashboard and passenger seat are not storage spaces for
your stuff. If something does come loose, pull over and stop before
you grab for it.
This rule goes double when driving with kids. Before you head
out, make sure everything your children will need for the trip is
easily accessible to them in the back seat. Fumbling for toys or
turning around to find something while the vehicle is in motion
puts both of you at considerable risk.
You see them during any morning rush hour: people maximizing their
drive-time by applying makeup, combing their hair or even shaving
behind the wheel. Maybe it's all those convenient mirrors. This may
sound obvious, but limit your personal grooming to the bathroom. If
you're running late, wait until you arrive at your destination
before attending to that pesky cowlick. Grooming while driving
increases your risk of accident by three times, and a crash will
likely do worse than muss up your hair.
Eating and drinking seem like relatively mindless tasks, but they
still divert your attention away from the road. An unseen pothole
is hazardous enough on its own, never mind with a scalding-hot cup
of coffee in your lap. As a rule of thumb, finish eating or
drinking before you get in the car. Not only will you be more
alert, but your car won't look and smell like a roadside diner.
Some novels are hard to put down, but behind the wheel of a moving
car is no place to curl up with a good book. Reading while driving,
be it a map or the morning paper, increases the risk of accident by
three times. If you're having trouble deciphering handwritten
directions, pull over and scrutinize them more closely. And if you
really can't wait to find out if Harry triumphs over Voldemort,
check to see if your favourite page-turner is available in
3. Using a mobile phone
Love 'em or hate 'em, cell phones are an unavoidable reality of
21st-century life. But the need to be connected to friends, family
and the office 24/7 can be more hazardous than it's worth.
According to the NHTSA/Virginia Tech study, cell phone use is the
single-most common external distraction facing drivers today, with
chatty drivers being more than three times as likely to be involved
in accidents. Hands-free phones help, but it's important to
remember that simply having a conversation-either on the phone or
with a passenger-decreases a driver's concentration level.
Currently, all provinces except the Northwest Territories and
Nunavut have laws on the books banning drivers from using handheld
cell phones and similar devices while driving. Avoid temptation by
turning your cell off before your turn the engine on. Let voicemail
be your co-pilot.
2. Operating a hand-held device or mobile
Hand-held gadgets may make some aspects of our lives easier, but
they're sure not helping us drive. Operating iPods and BlackBerrys
and dialing cell phones ups the risk of accidents by over three
times. Simply put, if it requires you to take a hand off the wheel
and/or your eyes off the road, do it later.
Next to impaired driving, drowsy driving is one of the most common
and lethal distractions around, resulting in as many as 22 percent
of all accidents. With their reflexes slowed and judgment fuzzy,
drowsy drivers are four times as likely to be involved in accidents
or near-accidents than alert drivers. According to the NHTSA study,
young drivers are at the highest risk for drowsy-driving, with
shift workers and people with undiagnosed sleep disorders also
posing considerable risks.
The best ways to avoid drowsy driving is to ensure you get
enough sleep before you take the wheel and to avoid driving between
midnight and 6 a.m. If you do start to feel sleepy, stop driving.
Immediately. Pull over and rest or let a well-rested passenger take
over. A few cups of coffee or a short 15-to-20-minute nap can make
a big difference, but they're no substitute for good, solid sleep.
If you're tired, you can't drive. Period.