April is designated as national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and MIEMSS is supporting this campaign with a series of social media posts. Did you know there are a number of ways you can get distracted while driving?
- Texting (including reading, writing, or sending electronic messages)
- Using a cell phone to have a conversa- tion, even hands-free
- Eating and/or drinking
- Reading or writing
- Personal grooming
- Interacting with other passengers, including pets
- Using a GPS
- Adjusting the radio, CD player, or portable music player
- Watching or listening to videos
Texting While Driving Most Dangerous
By far, the most risky behavior is texting while driving. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published a research study in 2009 in which it found that texting while operating a vehicle is 23 times more dangerous than abstaining from distracting behaviors (the research focused on commercial motor vehicle operations).
Your brain is incapable of being fully engaged in more than one task at once. For example, drivers tend to lose about one-third of their visual image processing function— which is critical in driving— when listening to phone conversations (Carnegie Mellon study). Distracted drivers also suffer from what is called “inattention blindness” in which they look at objects, such as red lights and children playing near the street, but don’t actually see them.
Maryland State law prohibits hand-held cell phone use by drivers while in motion as well as texting while occupying a travel lane on a roadway—an elaborate way of stating that texting is illegal even at stop lights and stop signs. And did you know that drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from cell phone use, even if they are using hands-free devices? As of this writing, a violation of any of these statutes is a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement can only cite drivers when another, primary offense is committed. However, this may soon change as legislation to make them primary offenses is pending.
No matter if it’s a primary or secondary offense, the facts are that lives are at risk when drivers become distracted. Here are some tips to stay focused while on the road:
- If you must make a phone call or text someone, pull off the road before even picking up your device.
- If you have a passenger that is capable, ask them to make the call for you.
- Eat before you get in the car, or after you arrive at your destination.
- Remind other passengers, especially children, that engaging the driver can be distracting and stressful.
- Provide quiet activities that are engaging for them. If a child needs attention, pull off the road so that you can give them that attention safely.
- Don’t let pets sit anywhere near the driver of a vehicle. The best option for your safety—and theirs—is to use a travel crate if possible. For most pets, this is less stressful than being free in a moving vehicle.
- Set your GPS to your destination before you start moving. If you have to adjust it during the ride, pull over to the side of the road.
- Don’t put reading material on your lap or on the passenger seat. Wait until you reach your destination to read that fascinating article or engrossing book. You’ll enjoy the reading more, anyway, if you’re not being jostled.