When your mind, eyes and attention wander, driving can quickly turn dangerous, traffic data from the last year suggests. The research shows that despite a significant drop in travel because of COVID, traffic fatalities increased nationally.
According to The National Safety Council (NSC), in 2020 there were 42,060 total motor-vehicle deaths, up eight percent from 2019. While Americans drove less because of stay-at-home orders and increased telecommuting, the fatality rate per mile driven rose 24 percent.
“I think a lot of what you’re seeing is emotionally distracted driving,” said Mark Ezzell, director of the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program in a recent article on North Carolina Health News.
“People are worried about family, worried about their future, worried about their health, and they’re just not doing some of the things that normally would come naturally and as a routine to them because their minds are not concentrating on driving. And one of those things is using your seat belt.”
The emotional toll of this time researchers believe may have contributed to more speeding, aggressive driving, and impaired driving that law enforcement witnessed on the roads over the last year.
As the light at the end of the tunnel for COVID seems to be approaching and warmer temperatures are arriving, people will be getting out and about. This means keeping distractions to a minimum is more important than ever.
What can we do to prevent distracted driving?
Distracted driving comes in four types: visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive. Eating, drinking, listening to loud music, pets, even kids can cause us to lose focus. Some basic recommendations for drivers include:
- First, and most obviously: Don’t talk or text while driving! According to traffic experts, texting is the most dangerous driving activity. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), text messaging increases the risk of crashes or near-crashes by 23 times.
But texting is not the only culprit in distracted driving incidents. Talking on the phone, even on a hand-less device, can impair the driver the same way being intoxicated would. Cell phone users are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident than undistracted drivers, the research shows.
- Don’t multitask while driving. Drivers should only do one thing while on the road: Drive! So don’t do paperwork or put on your makeup when you are rushing to get to school or work.
- Don’t eat or drink while driving. Either eat before or after a trip, or pull over.
- Don’t get distracted by technology. A big selling point for newer cars is all the bells and whistles, many of which are marketed as safety-promoting devices (voice-activated systems or handless devices). But the more complicated these are, the more attention they take from the road.
- Make all adjustments before hitting the road. Drivers should set GPS, climate control, and sound systems, as well as adjust mirrors and seats, before setting out on the road.
- Avoid the clutter. A messy car, with items rolling and moving all over the place, can be a distraction.
- Keep your eyes on the road. Drivers should always keep their eyes on the road and avoid looking at things like cool-looking buildings or eye-catching billboards. It’s recommended that drivers move their eyes every two seconds and scan mirrors every five to eight seconds.
- Never Drive Drowsy. Drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes each year, according to NHTSA. Drowsy drivers should immediately pull off the road and find a safe place to rest.
If you are concerned about distracted driving in your home or workplace, TSS can help you develop a contract for your teen or policies for your business. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.