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The Rise of Distracted Driving and What We Can Do About It


Today, we live in a fast-paced world where multitasking is the norm. Do you ever find yourself sipping coffee on your commute to work or scrolling through your email in stand-still traffic? Though these may seem like mindless acts, they both constitute distracted driving.

Distracted driving is defined as any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving crashes in the U.S. killed 3,179 people and injured 431,000 in 2014.

For as long as cars have been on the road, drivers have had the opportunity to eat, chat with passengers, and engage in a variety of non-driving related activities while operating a vehicle, and these have long been known to contribute to crashes (Treat & McDonald, DOT HS 805 099, 1977).

These days, one of the leading causes of distracted driving is the use of a mobile device. Did you know the reaction time for a driver talking on a cell phone is delayed as much as it is for a driver who is legally drunk? Texting is even worse. Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for at least five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded.

Driving distractions can be broken into three types:

  • Visual: Eyes on the road
  • Cognitive: Mind on driving
  • Manual: Hands on the wheel

Contrary to popular belief, hands-free devices are just as dangerous as handheld ones. The National Safety Council has compiled more than 30 research studies and reports by scientists around the world that used a variety of research methods to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones. All studies show hands-free phones offer no safety benefit when driving because they do not eliminate cognitive distraction.

What can employers do to prevent distracted driving?

As an employer, it is in your best interest to ensure your employees stay safe on the road. Incorporate safe communication practices into employee orientation, company vehicle use policies and training. Set up clear procedures that designate safe times and places for drivers to text and use other technologies to communicate with managers, customers and others. Send a clear message to employees and supervisors that your company does not condone texting while driving.

Employers should also ensure workers are familiar with laws surrounding the use of devices while driving. Hawaii law prohibits the use of mobile electronic devices while operating any motor vehicle, including stops at red lights and stop signs. The fine for violating this law starts at $297.

Here are some tips from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inform your driving policies and training:

  • Use a seat belt at all times—driver and passenger(s).
  • Be well-rested before driving.
  • Avoid taking medications that make you drowsy.
  • Set a realistic goal for the number of miles you can drive safely each day.
  • If you are impaired by alcohol or any drug, do not drive.
  • Avoid distractions, such as adjusting the radio or other controls, eating or drinking, and talking on the phone.
  • Stop about every two hours for a break. Get out of the vehicle to stretch, take a walk, and get refreshed.
  • Avoid aggressive driving by keeping your cool in traffic.
  • Be patient and courteous to other drivers.
  • Do not take other drivers’ actions personally.
  • Reduce your stress by planning your route ahead of time, allowing plenty of travel time, and avoiding crowded roadways and busy driving times.

Remember:  You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your undivided attention. Driving distracted is a choice. Don’t let it be yours.