Driven to Distraction
Driving a car is a complex physical and mental operation. Not only does it require coordination and reflexes, it also requires rapid assessment skills and good judgment. Automakers have spent decades making cars easier and safer to drive, installing everything from rearview mirrors to automatic transmissions to cruise control. Despite that, some drivers insist on creating distractions for themselves behind the wheel, most of which have nothing to do with driving, safe or otherwise.
Distraction Causes Crashes
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have studied driver behavior, and have categorized some of the causes of accidents in these reports. Their conclusion: "Driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes."
We've compiled a list of distracting activities that we've witnessed on the road. While we may have been guilty of engaging in a few of these non-driving-related distractions ourselves over the years, we have sworn off all extraneous activities behind the wheel. Our new motto: "Just drive."
Ladies, we know that it's impossible to get ready on time in the morning. But please, don't try to put on your mascara in traffic. Not only are you diverting your attention from the road, you're also at risk of looking like a sad clown by the time your get to the office.
Gentlemen, just because that razor is cordless doesn't mean that you should use it everywhere. While you concentrate on getting your sideburns even, traffic has bunched up behind you and you're driving on the shoulder. Shave at home, or wait until you get to work.
WeÔøΩve all done it on a busy day. A quick trip through the drive-through, and before you know it, you're eating a double cheeseburger with one hand, French fries with the other, balancing a soda with your elbow and steering with your knees. Beyond being a recipe for indigestion, eating behind the wheel is unsafe and distracting.
'Great Expectations' is a great book. It was a great book when Charles Dickens finished it in 1861. It will still be a great book after you reach your destination. Don't read behind the wheel. If you must be literary while driving, try audio books. Many of the classics are available for loan at your public library.
Talking on the Phone
"Research shows that driving while using a cell phone can pose a serious cognitive distraction and degrade driver performance," according to NHTSA, Using a hands-free device can reduce distraction, but not eliminate it. In other words, hang up and drive.
The driver in front of you on your morning commute weaves and swerves. You pull alongside, expecting to see an inebriated partier. Instead, a starched and pressed business person pilots the vehicle while texting with both thumbs on a PDA which rests on the steering wheel. Texting is unsafe at any speed but zero.
One of the first things we learn in driver's ed is proper driving position. So why do so many drivers insist on slouching, reclining, leaning against the door or putting their feet out of the window? Not only is visibility compromised, reaction time is delayed and control is also compromised, so much of the crash protection engineered into the car is defeated. Straighten up and drive right, for your own good.
A little bit of singing is a good thing, even while driving. But we've seen drivers engaging in full-out air guitar rockfests worthy of amphitheater stages, all while driving down a crowded highway. Save the theatrics for Karaoke night, and keep your mind on the road.
Petting the dog, cat, rabbit, bird or lizard
In swanky Beverly Hills, it's not uncommon to see a dog's face peeking out of the driver's window as a car whizzes by on Doheny Drive. The California state legislature even debated a law outlawing pets on drivers' laps. Confine your pet to the back seat or passenger seat. Pets are not immune to crashes, and can even cause them if they are unrestrained in the cabin.
Watching a Movie
In-car entertainment can really make a road trip pass by quickly for the passengers. But we've seen vehicles with LCD screens installed in the dash, in clear view of the driver, blaring video entertainment while the vehicle moves through traffic. Drive-in movies are one thing; a driving movie is something else entirely. Be sure to keep entertainment screens out of the driverÔøΩs line of sight.
Accessing the Internet
We haven't seen this yet, but it's coming. Chrysler LLC recently announced that it will launch an in-vehicle wireless internet system for its vehicles. According to Chrysler, "'uconnect web' transforms the vehicle into a mobile 'hot spot,' delivering unlimited, reliable and uninterrupted Internet connectivity." The system will be available as a dealer installed accessory for Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles beginning in August, 2008. Uh-oh!