Distracted Driving Reality: You Can Be Part of Solution

Learn why hands-free devices can be a threat to roadway safety, and take the pledge to be an attentive driver.

A popular myth holds that a penny dropped from the top of Empire State building can kill a person walking on the sidewalk down below. Scientists have determined the penny can reach speeds of between 30-100 mph, depending on the wind, and can hurt, but not kill, a pedestrian.

That’s one myth debunked. Let’s now debunk the myth of multitasking and explain why hands-free devices are no safer than hand-held when operating a vehicle. Research indicates cognitive distraction persists long after using voice commands to make a call or send a text.

Your brain can remain engaged in the phone or the car infotainment system for as long as 27 seconds, according to AAA research. This type of distraction is referred to as inattention blindness. Think of it as driving blindfolded. If you are traveling at 40 mph, you will cover the length of six football fields during that time, or about five city blocks. You easily could miss a stop sign, pedestrian or another vehicle in your path.

Many people believe they are accomplished multitaskers. The truth is the human brain cannot handle two thinking tasks at once. Instead, it quickly toggles between tasks. Driving and talking on the phone are thinking tasks.

During cell phone conversation, a driver’s reaction time can be slowed while the brain switches focus from the road to a call from a friend or co-worker. This differs from walking and chewing gum because one is a thinking task and the other is not. Your brain is not required to prioritize one over the other.

Behind the wheel, one moment of distraction can spell the difference between a crash and a near miss. Distracted driving kills. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed in distracted driving crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Another 391,000 were injured. Because police reports often fail to capture the reasons for crashes, these numbers are believed to be underreported.

Each person injured or killed is a mom or dad, sister or brother. Surely, we can agree the losses are unacceptable, no matter where the final casualty numbers land.

In April, during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the challenge incumbent on all of us is to be a part of the solution. The ask is simple: Be mindful, be present when you are driving. Just drive. Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from the task at hand. Create awareness at work, and in your home or community by sharing the distracted driving message.

Pledge to be an attentive driver, and share your pledge on social media.

NHTSA estimates 660,000 people use electronic devices while driving during the day. Manual distractions include eating, drinking and grooming. Daydreaming is another type of cognitive distraction.

In a National Safety Council poll, 82% of Americans said they felt the most pressure from family members to use phones while driving. Today, technology exists that can block calls and texts. Smart drivers take advantage of these tools because they don’t buy into the “not me” attitude prevalent among many who believe rules don’t apply to them.

There is a difference between myth and reality. Alert equals alive.

— Lisa Robinson is a senior program manager with the National Safety Council