Driver Distraction is Not Just About Cell Phones

The media has been reporting heavily on driver distraction, amid growing debates about mobile device use by drivers. Many states have moved to ban hand-held cell phones and texting while driving and mounting social pressure has meant that drivers are becoming more aware about the dangers of using mobile devices while driving. The US National Safety Council has stated that drivers using cell phones may contribute to one-quarter of all car accidents. Distracted driving has been linked to bus accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, and truck accidents as well.

However, according to U.S. Highway Safety Research Center, while about 80% of accidents are caused at least in part by driver distraction, mobile devices are in fact not the only cause of distraction. Other distractions that can cause traffic accidents include:

1) Distractions outside the vehicle. According to the U.S. Highway Safety Research Center, nearly one–third of accidents are attributable at least in part to drivers being distracted by something outside the car. These outside distractions can include other drivers, pedestrians, roadside accidents, billboards, animals on the road, and other objects that enter a driver’s field of vision and distract him or her.

2) Adjusting car instruments. Changing a CD, fiddling with an iPod, adjusting wipers, and otherwise making adjustments to the vehicle while driving contribute to at least 14% of accidents, according to the U.S. Highway Safety Research Center. All of these actions distract the driver and usually require the driver to remove their eyes from the road.

3) Animated conversations. Talking with others distracts a driver. Many drivers instinctively remove their eyes from the road to look at the person they are conversing to. Even drivers who are disciplined enough not to do this, however, may be distracted by the content of the conversation and not focusing on the road. In fact, critics of hand-held cell phone bans often point out that the danger with cell pones is not the devices themselves but rather the types of conversations people are having. Someone having a heated argument with a spouse on a hands-free cell phone is just as likely to be distracted as someone who is having a regular discussion on a hand-held cell phone.

4) Moving objects in the car. A bottle or something rattling about on the floor of the car is distracting to a driver, who may turn about instinctively to search for the source of the noise, taking their eyes off the road. A dropped object on the floor of the car can also be distracting and even dangerous if it becomes wedged under the gas or brake pedals. There’s another reason to pick up loose objects in the car and toss them in the trunk: any objects not secured can become airborne during an accident and can lead to serious head and brain injuries. Any pets in a car can also obviously be distracting and dangerous. Pets should always be secured in a kennel or cage when traveling.

5) Drinking or eating. Any personal activities such as eating, drinking, or applying makeup require you to take your eyes off the road. As well, accidents can occur if you spill something on yourself and instinctively react to that. With makeup, you can easily get some product in your eye and become temporarily blinded. Pull over to drink and eat and wait until your car is stopped to adjust makeup.

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