Dear Mr. Dad: Almost every day, I see people behind the wheel talking on cell phones, and to be honest, it scares me. How big a problem is this and is there anything we can about it?
A: Distracted driving is a huge problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov), there are three distinct types of distraction: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off of driving). Under the best of circumstances, most of us are distracted in one way or another (usually cognitively) a lot of the time we’re behind the wheel — we’re listing to the radio, talking with others, or just thinking. Cellphones are especially problematic, though, because they combine more than one type of distraction.
During the day, 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving, including more than 540,000 who are holding a handheld device to their ear (but not including drivers who are texting or are distracted by something else, like changing channels on the radio or trying to find something in the glove compartment or purse). Distracted drivers are more likely to be young (ages 16-24) and female. In 2015 (statistics are always a few years behind), 391,000 people were injured and 3,477 were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. To make matters worse, those numbers are going up every year.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and there’s a lot that each of us can do to combat distracted driving.
The first step is to make a commitment to stay off your phone while you’re driving. And no, hands-free doesn’t count. In fact, researchers have found that hands-free phone operation is almost as likely to take your attention away from the road as hands-on. So put your phone away and keep it away.
If you need to use your phone, ask a passenger to place your call or plug the address into the GPS. If you’re alone in the car, pull over.
If you have a teenager, be especially careful and talk with him or her about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving. A recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found that 67 percent of high school seniors admit to using apps while driving. At the same time, encourage your teen to speak up if someone they’re driving with, whether that’s a peer or an adult, is using a phone. It’s never okay, even “for a second.”
Visit the National Safety Council’s website and sign the Take Back Your Drive pledge (www.enddd.org), committing to never drive distracted in any way, whether that’s phone calls, texts, social media updates, or anything else. You can make a similar pledge at the U.S. Department site, www.distraction.gov/take-action/take-the-pledge.html.
Install an anti-distracted-driving app. There are lots of good ones out there, so do a search in the App Store or Play Store, ask your carrier about their proprietary app, or check out the list at www.dmv.org/distracted-driving-apps.php.
Change your vocabulary. The word “accident” makes car versus car or car versus pedestrian sound minor. The word “crash” is more accurate.
Look into our ever-growing list of distracted driving resources, at https://mrdad.com/distracted-driving-resources. Please contact us if you have suggestions.