Distracted driving: Put down the phone

If you live on the main drag of your community, you become aware of the number of times and the hours of the day – and night – when sirens scream past your house: police, fire, and ambulances. You may say to yourself, “Must be a crash. I hope nobody got hurt. I hope it’s nobody I know.”

The National Safety Council advises that the number of vehicle fatalities has risen across the board. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens, but all age groups are dying in an increase of crashes for the first time in a decade. “About 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, and about 4.6 million were injured.”

A NSC white paper, “Understanding the Distracted Brain,” says that “Vision is the most important sense for safe driving. Yet drivers using hands free phones (and those using handheld phones) have a tendency to “look at” but not “see” objects. Estimates indicate that drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.”

The report says distracted drivers have inattention blindness. They are not focused on their driving. They are not alert to their surroundings and are unable to react effectively to sudden changes indicating danger.

The NSC estimates that one in four crashes involves cell phones being used at the time of the collision. Hands-free phone use is just as risky, impeding safe driving. “Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.” The human brain cannot perform two tasks at the same time. When we try to force our brains to do two things at once, it actually bounces back and forth between tasks. The brain is actually doing one thing at a time. So when you are driving and texting or talking at the same time, which are you actually doing effectively?

The brain receives the message, then has to process the information. It creates the memory and stores the information, explains the NSC. When the brain misses critical information the driver may not be properly processing those details that the driver needs to know.

When you are busy doing something, do you stop what you are doing when someone speaks to you and focus on what they are saying? Do you later remember what was said? Has someone ever said, “I told you …” and you replied, “I didn’t hear you say that”? If you weren’t focused on what they were saying, if you kept working at your task, you were distracted.

Or, when you are talking on the phone and your spouse or child is talking to you at the same time, who do you hear? Neither? Why? So, how can you be an alert driver and talk on the phone, hands-free or not? Do you really want to continue the practice of distracted driving until your luck runs out and you or someone else is injured or killed?

This article isn’t about scare tactics. It’s about urging safe driving so you – and others – get to their destination safe and sound.

What did people do before cell phones?

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