According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Summary of Statistical Findings (DOT HS 812 381), every day crashes that involve a distracted driver kill nine plus people and injures more than 1,000. With April being National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, it is the perfect opportunity to have a conversation with your drivers about the types of distracted driving and how best to avoid them. When drivers understand the behaviors that contribute to dangerous distractions, they gain valuable insight which puts them on a road to positive change and self-improvement behind the wheel.
When it comes to distracted driving, there are three types: visual, manual, cognitive. Here is a brief description of each one, along with typical scenarios which depict a potential underlying cause.
Eyes Off the Road
Simply explained, visual distractions require drivers to take their eyes off the road—even for the briefest moment, and completely removes their full attention from driving. And as we all know, it only takes a second for something to go wrong. This type of distraction can include some of the most common activities that drivers may not even recognize as a threat to their safety—it could even stem from their emotions. For instance, a driver might have received great news, and while driving, he scans the titles in his playlist for his favorite song to celebrate. This may seem minor, but this visual distraction takes his eyes away from the road which can quickly lead to a hazardous situation.
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Hands Off The Wheel
Having full control of your vehicle is one of the most crucial concepts of safe driving. However, manual distractions cause a driver to take one or both hands off the steering wheel which results in reduced or complete loss of vehicle control. For example, if someone isn’t sleeping well due to stress and is therefore waking up late, it could mean he/she is eating breakfast and drinking coffee while driving to catch up on lost time. This is a risky behavior that results in a manual distraction which has been initiated from poor sleep due to stress. By identifying the root cause of a behavior this individual can focus on reducing stress, therefore getting more sleep, which will allow more time to eat breakfast at home before getting behind the wheel, and therefore eliminating the distraction all together.
Mind Off And Wandering
Cognitive distractions take the driver’s mind off what he should be focused on—driving, and shifts his mental focus someplace else. This form of distraction is very dangerous because it prevents someone from quickly processing important, real-time information that can help avoid an accident.
A common scenario of this type of distraction is one we have all likely been guilty of at one time or another—daydreaming. Do you ever find yourself going to your car, unlocking the door; getting in, starting the engine; driving off; and when arriving at the destination, you can hardly recall what happened during the ride? According to a study conducted by Erie Insurance, 61 percent of distracted drivers admitted to daydreaming when a collision happened.
But daydreaming isn’t the only behavior that keeps the mind from being focused on the road. Another prevalent cause of mental distraction is the use of smartphones. According to NHTSA, approximately 481,000 drivers are using phones while driving during daylight hours. Talking on the phone completely shifts the driver’s mind to focus on the conversation and not on his or her immediate surroundings. So, while the eyes of the driver are facing ahead, their decision-making skills are someplace else.
The moral of the story is that individuals can’t drive safely and remain vigilant behind the wheel unless the task of driving has their full attention. As an organization, it’s your duty to educate drivers about distracted driving, coach them to get to the full underlying behaviors influencing the distraction and provide a plan that incorporates resources and safety training designed to keep these aspects top of mind so they can arrive to all their destinations safely.