The Danger of Distracted Driving

This is partly a confession, partly a plea to all of you who are reading this post.

As someone who drives everywhere by myself everyday, I have been guilty of distracted driving. What is distracted driving? According to Distraction.gov, the official website of US Government for distracted driving, There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual — taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual — taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing

Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.

While all distractions can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves all three types of distraction.

Other distracting activities include:

* Using a cell phone
* Eating and drinking
* Talking to passengers
* Grooming
* Reading, including maps
* Using a PDA or navigation system
* Watching a video
* Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player.

Like I said, I have been guilty of doing almost all of those mentioned above while I was driving. While I no longer send SMS/BlackBerry messages while driving, I admit that sometimes I would be driving, my cellphone rings, and without thinking, I would pick it up and start talking, thinking “This is going to be a short one, I’m not driving too fast anyway.”

A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of Oprah that made me swear I will never ever do any of those again. It shocked me to realize that it’s not that I’m such an excellent driver that I could handle talking on the phone while driving, I have just been lucky. As simple as that.

The stories of people, whose loved ones have been killed in tragic accident caused by distracted driving, have been haunting me. It made me sick to my stomach that this could happen to myself or my family or I could have caused this to happen to other people’s family!

In the US, Police-reported data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling show that:

  • In 2009, there were 30,797 fatal crashes in the United States, which involved 45,230 drivers. In those crashes 33,808 people died.
  • In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction (16% of total fatalities).

In Indonesia, according to Dirlantas Polda Metro Jaya Kombes Pol Royke Lumowa in Traffic Management Control Metro website, there were 6,000 accidents that happened in 2010 and 135 of those were caused by distracted driving.

As you probably know, Polda Metro Jaya has implemented a new regulation regarding the use of mobile phone starting December 2010. Basically, if you are caught using your cell phone while driving a vehicle, whether it’s talking on the phone, texting, BBM, tweeting, etc, you will be given a fine up to Rp. 750.000 or 3 months imprisonment. I’m actually very happy to hear that our government is quite quick to respond to this very important issue. But let’s be honest, even after hearing about this new regulation, have you completely stopped doing it? If yes, good for you! If you answer no, I am begging you to please stop doing it.

You might think “Oh but I’m really good at multitasking” or “But I always use hands-free when talking on the phone.” Here’s the truth.

University of Utah researcher David Strayer has been studying distracted drivers for 10 years. “The brain just doesn’t work the way we’d like it to work,” he says. “We can’t multitask the way that a lot of people think they can.”

David’s research found that talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of an accident. “For comparison purposes, someone who’s drunk at a 0.08 blood alcohol level has a four-time crash increase. So talking on a cell phone is about the same as driving drunk,” he says. “When you’re text messaging, the crash risk goes up to eight times.”

On the Oprah episode that I watched, David showed a series of pictures which gave me the chills. Let me give you an example.

Driving Without Distractions
This is what a driver sees when she’s not distracted by a cell phone.

Driving While Talking on a Cell Phone

This is what that same driver sees when she starts talking on a cell phone. “You suffer from something called inattention blindness,” David says. “About half of that information is removed. It could be a stop sign. It could be a pedestrian. And so this inattention blindness makes us drive in a way that makes it worse than drunk driving.”

The next time you’re in the car, put down the phone. “We’re just not wired to multitask in that way. We think we can do it. We simply can’t,” he says. “And we’re deceiving ourselves if we think we are.”

I hope this is enough to convince you of the danger of distracted driving. Don’t wait till someone, or yourself, becomes the victim of this irresponsible act. If the call/message is really that important, pull up on the side of the road and stop the car before you do it.

If you’ve never used your cell phone while driving, please tell your husband/wife/parents/friends/driver or everyone you can about the danger of distracted driving and make them stop doing it.

I promise myself and you, that I will put down my phones when I’m driving and the next time my BB bleeps when I’m driving, I will ask myself this question “Is this message worth another human being’s life?”