Smarter Driving: Distracted driving a danger to everyone

There are essentially three types of distractions when it comes to driving: visual, physical and mental.

Visual distractions cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, perhaps to read roadside signs, watch the scenery, check yourself in the mirror or rubberneck at crash scenes.

Physical distractions cause drivers to take their hands off the wheel. These encompass applying makeup or performing some form of personal grooming, reading a map or newspaper, reaching to adjust the radio or change the CD, seeking something that fell on the floor, eating and drinking, and the most distracting of all, using a cell phone or texting while driving.

Mental distractions result in drivers taking their minds off the road, such as thinking about what happened at work today, that homework assignment you haven’t started yet, talking with your passengers, using your voice activated computer on the dashboard or using a hands-free cell phone, just to name a few.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has identified three different levels of mental distraction – mild, moderate and high. A mild distraction is listening to the radio or audiobook. An example of a moderate distraction would be talking on a hand-held as well as a hands-free phone. Texting or using voice-activated texting or email features on your cell phone or built into your car fall under the high level of distraction.

So, how does taking your attention off driving affect your driving ability? Attempting to perform one non-driving task varying from talking on your cell phone to using your voice-activated email system results in the following unsafe driving behaviors: suppressed brain activity in the areas needed for safe driving, slower reaction time for peripheral vision detection and vehicles braking, decreased accuracy such as missing your exit or turn onto a side road, and decreased visual scanning resulting in a form of tunnel vision, being more focused on your task rather than the road and the environment around you.

Texting is especially risky, bringing all three types of distractions into play. Visually, you are looking at and holding your cell phone as you physically type out your tex, thus taking your mind off the road.

Research by AAA has shown that although 92 percent of U.S. drivers consider texting while driving as unacceptable, 24 percent still do it. Texting while driving has surpassed drunk driving as the number one threat to personal safety.

The overall risk of experiencing a crash or near crash event can be 23 times higher — that’s an increase of over 2,000 percent!

Texting is very popular among teens, so to help reduce the chance of any serious consequences, talk with your teen and any family member who texts. Discuss the dangers of texting and driving. It can kill you, or someone else.

Let them know their world could end with the push of a button. Is a text more important than a life? Could they live knowing they took another’s life? Sign a family pledge to not read or send a text message while driving.

If you cannot devote your full attention to driving, it is a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.

The National Safety Council offers these tips to be a focused driver:

n Adjust your vehicle controls before driving, such as mirrors, seats, radio and AC.

n Do all GPS settings before departing.

n Do not multitask behind the wheel, such as reading, writing a note, drinking and having an intense conversation either by cell phone or with a passenger.

n Do not reach for fallen items, open the glove compartment or reach behind your seat.

n Pull over to a safe area (parking lot or rest stop on a highway) to make or receive a phone call, or to attend to children in the car.

Take time to become more educated about the distractions that affect our driving. Visit your local AAA office for literature, or sign up for the AAA Mature Driver or AARP Driver Safety Course. Once you complete the course, you can submit a copy of your certificate to your insurance company to reduce your auto policy payments by as much as 15 percent, depending on your insurance provider.

Write to me and tell me your thoughts on distracted driving prevention. I am always open for your comments and concerns. You can reach me at

Lee Edwards of Niantic has been in the transportation industry for more than two decades.

Tips to reduce distracted driving

1) Stow and secure all electronic devices, loose gear and other possessions in the glove compartment or trunk.

2) Keep your eyes on the road at all times.

3) Avoid activities that take even one hand off the steering wheel, such as grooming or reaching for anything.

4) Don’t use cell phones while driving.

5) Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into your vehicle.

Source: AAA Distracted Driving flyer



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