This is the first of a five-part series that looks at the many dangers associated with distracted driving. In this segment, we will focus on defining distracted driving, explore common examples of the behavior, and explain how it can compromise the duty that motorists have to exercise care on the roadways. Accidents involving motor vehicles are a leading cause of death by injury and are the most cited cause of work-related deaths. More U.S. military members die in their own vehicles than in active service, and since 1994 a minimum of 32,000 fatalities have occurred annually. Roughly 75% of motorists admit to having driven while distracted and 98% recognize the potential dangers it can cause. Nationally, the leading agency that is working to curtail the problem is the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, yet the responsibility for establishing and enforcing distracted driving laws is primarily done at the individual state level.
Defining Distracted Driving
Conducting activities that divert attention away from driving is the definition of distraction in an auto vehicle. Far too frequently drivers are tending to unnecessary tasks while driving, all of which are a threat to their safety as well as the safety of passengers, other motorists and pedestrians. In 2015, there were over 391,000 injuries and over 3,400 fatalities attributed to this problem; however, these numbers are only a fraction of the true volume, as many drivers do not reveal that they were distracted at the time of a collision. At any given time during the day, over 600,000 motorists are using mobile devices while behind the wheel. Unfortunately, despite widespread awareness of the problem, many drivers continue to allow for distractions. Vehicle operators are obligated to drive in a safe manner and driving while distracted significantly compromises this duty.
Most Common Distractions
- Talking or texting on mobile devices
- Eating or drinking
- Adjusting stereo, navigational system, climate control
- Reaching around to retrieve fallen objects
- Tending to children
- Shaving or applying makeup
- Reading things such as maps
Across the state, each day approximately 40 accidents occur due to driver distraction. In 2016, Colorado had 67 traffic fatalities as a result of distractions, just one less death than the 68 deaths in 2015. Again, these statistics are significantly lower than the actual volume, because drivers are reluctant to disclose that they were distracted at the time of an accident. All age groups are likely to drive while distracted; however, those between the ages of 21 and 34 are the most apt to have an accident while distracted.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is among the agencies that are most active in combating the problem. The Colorado State Patrol is the primary law enforcement agency that is imposing the laws designed to curb distracted driving and are also active in educational programming about the topic. Unfortunately, the state patrol has recognized that the problem is almost as dangerous as drivers operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Distracted driving clearly increases the likelihood of causing an accident. Many of us are in the habit of consistently multi-tasking, yet it should not be done while operating a vehicle. The term multi-tasking could more fittingly be referred to as “task switching,” as our brains actually engage in only one conscious action at a time. When switching between tasks that are more intricate, the transition between tasks takes more time and overall productivity drops.
Eyes on the Road Ahead
Those composing or reading text messages may not look at the road ahead for a period of five seconds, which when traveling at 55 miles per hour is equivalent to closing your eyes as you travel nearly 300 feet. Vision is critically important for safe vehicle operation. Advocates have called for drivers to transition to “hands-free” usage of phones when driving, which allows for the driver to keep looking at the road. The problem with this is that the driver's mind is still distracted and he or she may be “inattentively blind.” Studies show that recognition of the driving environment is reduced by up to 50% in these instances and reaction time is slowed.
In the next segment of the series, we will address more fully how usage of electronic devices is endangering roadway safety.