Chapter 2
DRIVER DISTRACTIONS


A 1998 study in Ontario, Canada found that drivers 16 to 19 years old were twice as likely to have a fatal collision when carrying one passenger than when driving alone, and six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash if they had two or more passengers. Facts show that when a teen driver has passengers, seat belt usage goes down, speed goes up, and risk-taking maneuvers increase. A similar study conducted by the Preusser Research Group of Connecticut found that 16-year old drivers with at least two teenage passengers were almost eight times more likely to get into a collision than adults with at least two passengers.

There are many factors which can distract a driver on the road. Identifying distractions and not allowing them to adversely affect the driving task are vital to accident prevention.

A. Driver Distractions (Inside the Vehicle) - Automobiles are often equipped with cellular phones, compact disc players, fax machines, etc., which distract drivers from the road. You must be aware of distractions that can affect your ability to drive. Reaching for a ringing phone or searching for a radio station increases the potential for an accident. 

According to a study conducted by a group of Canadian scientists, talking on a cellular phone while driving quadruples the risk of having an accident, making it as dangerous as driving while drunk. The safest option is to avoid using your cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle. However, if you still choose to use your phone, please follow the safety tips below:

  1. Keep the phone close to you so you won't have to reach or look for it while driving.
  2. Dial only when at a stoplight or sign, or pull off the road to dial.
  3. Never use your phone in distracting traffic situations or in stop and go traffic. Pull over and use the phone while off the road.
  4. Disconnect your cellular phone while using jumper cables as the power surge could burn out your phone battery.
  5. If you have a phone in your car, use it to report emergencies on the road by dialing 911. Always be ready to provide the closest major cross streets or off-ramps in the area. NOTE: Cellular phone users in the United States make nearly 50,000 calls each day to report highway and neighborhood emergencies.

Any situation that can mentally or emotionally distract you and take precedence over traffic matters is dangerous. Distractions must be kept to a minimum, and you must be focused at all times.

B. Driver Distractions (Outside the Vehicle) - You must be aware of road hazards and road conditions that may affect your vehicle, but you should not let outside distractions affect your safe driving habits. Billboards, homes, pedestrians, etc. may be attractive to view, but these should not deter you from the driving task. You must realize that an awareness of the road is vital, because a wandering eye can prove deadly. For example, real estate brokers are statistically involved in many accidents, because looking at street names and addresses removes their eyes from the road. Without full attention to the roadways, accidents become inevitable. A handsome man or a pretty woman that distracts a driver often leads to rear-enders and exemplifies the need for the eyes to remain fixed on the road and concentrated on the task of driving.

Emergency vehicles are another type of outside distraction that require respect and cannot affect you adversely. Ambulances or fire trucks should be allowed to use the roadway, unencumbered by other vehicles, and should not be obstructed in any way. Staring at or following emergency vehicles will only add to the problem on the road. In addition, do not get caught up in scenery; admire these homes, buildings or views while stopped at a safe location, not while driving. These distractions will only contribute to collisions.

C. Children/Other Passengers - Your focus, again, should always be on the road. Passengers, particularly children, often require much of your attention and may decrease road awareness. All passengers, including children, must be buckled in the vehicle and instructed to let you focus on the road.

D. Pets - Pets should be leashed or put in a pet carrier while in the vehicle, particularly if they are in the back of a pickup truck. Avoid placing your pets on your lap as they will block the usage of car functions. If traveling with a pet, never let it interfere with your control of the vehicle. Secure it in the back seat with the care you would give any other passenger.

E. Eating - Eating will distract you and cause the removal of your hands from the steering wheel. You should eat before you drive, but if you are really pressed for time, consume your food only on the side of the road in a parked car.

F. Drinking - Drinking and subsequent spills often cause the eyes to focus away from the road. Hot spills can result in burns and increase the chances for an accident as well.

G. Smoking - Smoking prevents both hands from staying on the steering wheel. But it is the process of smoking that can be a deadly distraction. When you have to reach for a cigarette, light it, put it out, or watch for falling ashes while trying to control your vehicle, you will lose your focus on the road.

H. Radio - Finding a station and looking down at the radio will take your eyes away from the road. Leaning over to change the station often causes the vehicle to veer off course and increases the potential for getting into an accident. To prevent this, program your car radio’s preset buttons to set it to your favorite stations so that this does not adversely affect your driving. Additionally, some people combine driving with dancing. Music is often stimulating, but physical gyrations while driving can interfere and prove to be unsafe.

I. Reading - Attempting to read and drive at the same time is impossible. The act of driving should be respected. Reading often leads to rear-end collisions as eyes are not focused on the road and the driver does not see cars braking ahead. Drivers reading newspapers or books perched on their steering wheels are simply asking for trouble.

J. Applying Makeup / Shaving - These actions have no place in the vehicle, whatsoever. Prepare yourself at home before driving. It is common to see men shaving or women applying lipstick or makeup while behind the wheel. Again, you cannot combine driving with these actions. An accident is likely to occur.

K. General Distractions - Awareness of the immediate surroundings while driving is essential in avoiding collisions. Distractions such as buildings, people, or other vehicles must not alter your vehicle control. You must alter your visual habits if they are not conducive for the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Wandering eyes will heighten accident potential. To help you be aware of your environment, you may want to train your eyes to look every two or three seconds at the rear view mirror, the speedometer, and the road ahead to get an adequate determination of speed, positioning and road conditions. Remember: Be prepared for the unexpected.

Special Note: On January 10th, 2001, Ford Motor Corporation opened a $10 million driving simulator called VIRTTEX, or VIRtual Test Track EXperiment, which allowed their researchers to test new product features and study driver behaviors safely in a controlled environment. This was the first automotive lab to feature a full-scale driving simulator that tracks drivers' eye movements while they engaged in various driving behaviors, such as using onboard gadgets and trying to maneuver curves on simulated highways. Ford released results from their first test the following year that supported the findings of previous studies regarding cellular telephones.

General Driving Tips