By Russ and Tiña De Maris
April is Distracted Driving Awareness month. Is the situation of such serious concern that it needs its own month? Consider: Every day across the U.S. about nine people die in traffic incidents related to distracted driving – that’s pushing 10 percent of the total auto incident death toll. Yep, about as serious as a heart attack.
And one of the big problems is, the figures are rising. Among professional drivers, driving distractions occurred on more than one-third of trips made in the last six months; and that’s up 5 percent from the same time the year before. If we “recreational” drivers are any reflection of the stats for the pros, then we’re in big trouble.
While driving distractions come from many areas – “dashboard dining,” that is eating or drinking while behind the wheel; checking the map or the GPS; adjusting your hair or makeup; fiddling with the radio – all those situations can take your eyes right off the road. Then add the attraction of using a cell phone or, worse still, texting. Not only do these take your eyes off the road, your mind goes with it.
Statistics factor in age. If you’re a “baby boomer,” then you’re more likely to be paying attention – 46 percent self-reporting that they concentrated on driving. Other age groups didn’t do as well (if less than half of boomers paying attention to piloting their rig is a good thing): 38 percent of Generation X drivers say they concentrate on their business, while only 35 percent of millennials do.
What’s the problem? Addiction, say experts. Addiction to gadgets like smart phones, dragging our eyes and minds away from the pavement ahead. Do you text while driving? Here’s something that might snap you out of your addiction. Cruising in your RV at 55 miles per hour, just how far will you drive while cranking out the typical text message? If it takes you five seconds, then you and the motorhome have rolled down a stretch of highway as long as a football field.
For those whose behavior behind the wheel leans toward distraction, other nasty (and deadly) habits creep in. Using professional drivers as an example, a driver who is distracted by a cell phone is three times more likely to roll ahead of the speed limit by 10 miles per hour or more, and nearly three times as likely to blow a stoplight. And lest you say, “Well, those are truck drivers – everybody else drives more safely!” consider this: The crash rate of truckers is nearly 30 percent less than the rest of us.
So how can we drive less distractedly? Here are some tips:
• Focus on your driving. Do not let anything divert your attention. Scan the road, use your mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.
• Stuff rolling around in your rig is a sure temptation to reach down and fiddle with it. Make sure your stuff is tied down before you turn the key.
• Do “preflight adjustments.” Set your mirrors, you seats, your a/c and entertainment system before putting it in gear. If you need to retune the radio while on the road, have your “shotgun seat” rider do it for you, or wait until you can pull out at a safe place.
• Use the bedroom and the bathroom for dressing and grooming – not the driver’s seat.
• Try to eat before you roll. If you need to snack behind the wheel, steer clear of messy stuff that can lead you to paying more attention to the eats than the streets.
• Carrying kids or pets? Get them seat-belted or otherwise secured before you pull out. If they need attention while under way, pull off the roadway. Reaching behind the seat to discipline junior can bring on more than Child Protective Services – it could be the medical examiner.
• De-energize electronic distractions. Reserve the use of cell phones (hands-free or handheld, either way) only for emergencies. NEVER text, email, game or internet surf while in the cockpit.
• Whatever else wants your attention while driving, resist the urge to pay it attention. It’s far safer to pull off the road at a safe place and deal with it.
Remember what a driving distraction is: Anything that takes your full attention away from driving is a distraction. Deal with it – off the road.