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Discussion: Distracted Driving February 4, 2011

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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Warning: This post contains over-the-top horrific, graphic photographs.

Many states have enacted cell phone/texting laws in an effort to save the lives of many by forcing the driver to focus on the task at hand. This follows the ethical reasoning of DUI laws, heavily enforced for decades. There is evidence that texting is more dangerous and more prevalent than drunk driving.

If you know someone who is still texting while driving, show them these photos. They will stop.

 

The driver of the car was texting.

 

When he swerved underneath the truck his body was cut in half.

 

Most of us have educated ourselves and our loved ones about the dangers of calling and texting while driving and have curbed our behavior. According to Distraction.gov, 5,500 people died from causes related to cell phones in 2009. Numerous campaigns have sprung up such as Oprah‘s “No Phone Zone.” Great. Love it. Let’s get more of those. I’ll jump on the bandwagon. State laws prohibiting cell phone use? I’m going to pass on that one.

What I have not heard are reports about other types of distractions while driving. Distraction is defined by NHTSA as

a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the task of driving to focus on another activity instead. These distractions can be electronic distractions, such as navigation systems and cell phones, or more conventional distractions, such as interacting with passengers and eating. These distracting tasks can affect drivers in different ways and are categorized into the following three types– visual, taking your eyes off the road; manual, taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive, taking your mind off the road.

I’m glad they mention those pesky “conventional distractions.” Ever taken a ride with me and my three kids? They are generally well behaved now, but when they were ages 0, 1 and 2 or 2, 3 and 4 they had many needs all of the time all which had to be met by me whether driving or not. One kid at the age of 2 opened a rear car door while I was on the highway. Another kid had his front-facing car seat buckled in, until the seatbelt, unbeknownst to me, became unbuckled and when I stopped at a light, car seat and kid came flying toward the front center console. And then there’s all the laughing, crying, whining, hitting, joking and poor word choice that remains part of our road time. This is not to be belittled. Sometimes when we arrive somewhere I’m worn out just from the drive. Oh we’ve played calming music and sang songs, tried the “boring” news on the radio, talked about the importance of not distracting the driver, but the mini-emergencies and sheer volume of voices would have any mom reaching into her purse for an ibuprofen–another distraction.

The creation of laws assumes an additional cost to taxpayers, places an increased burden on police officers to enforce the laws, and allows in the mindset of the public that critical thinking is no longer required since the government “has taken care of all that for me.” It removes the fundamental onus of personal responsibility, where instead we should be urging it. What can the DOT do about conventional, cognitive distractions? Nothing. They will not tell me who can ride in my car or have the ability to determine my level of distractedness at any given moment. They will never know whether my children or my cell phone is more distracting to me. Believe it or not public health folks, there are ways to change behavior independent of enacting laws. Did the photos move you?

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