Minimizing driver distractions

Limiting the number and kinds of distractions that lead to inattention while driving is not difficult for drivers who understand the social responsibility they have toward others to safely operate their vehicles.

James Solomon, program development and training director for the National Safety Council’s Driver and Roadway Safety Department, said people have become so accustomed to multitasking outside of the car that they mistakenly believe they can do it inside their vehicles as well. He added that driving safely requires full attention to the road and possible hazards. Drivers and passengers who take the time to plan ahead before heading out on the road can help lower the risk of a vehicle collision, he said.

Levels of distraction

Inattention to driving occurs when a driver is engaged in secondary tasks. These include eating, talking on a cell phone or driving while drowsy. Other distractions involve things that might seem outside of the driver’s control, such as a crying baby or a chatty passenger.

John Ulczycki, vice president for the council’s Research, Communication and Advocacy Group, said anything that distracts a driver for longer than two seconds is a concern. Some distractions engage your brain, while others require extensive manipulation with your hands, he said. Actions such as reaching for an object in the car or putting on makeup causes the driver to take his or her eyes off the road and detracts from the ability to maneuver.

People engaged in cell phone conversations experience cognitive distraction, which poses a much higher risk than a conversation with a passenger. A cognitive distraction is any distraction that takes a driver’s mind (as opposed to eyes) off the road. The solution is for drivers to acknowledge their social responsibility and put down the phone. In emergencies, drivers should pull over to a safe location and then make a call.

Drivers also should establish rules for passenger behavior and conversation, Solomon said. This could include rules to limit emotional or stressful conversations, and mediating family or business affairs. – Deidre Bello

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