Fixing Distracted Driving

Nathaniel L

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The buzzing in Sarah’s pocket prompts her to pull out the cell phone and respond to the text, but while looking down, she runs into a few people. After a few quick apologies, she continues on her way. Then Sarah’s talking on her phone in the hallway, and there are yet more collisions. “Sorries” are mumbled, but this time, it happens to be a trash can. Something catches her eye on a shelf at the grocery store, but, reaching for her phone in her back pocket, she runs into a fellow shopper yet again. But all she has to give are a few quick apologies every time. Sometimes in life, “sorry” acts as a magic word and can mend seemingly everything, but there are times where “sorry” does nothing. Will “sorry” help when Sarah crashes her parents’ car because she needed to respond to a text message? What about when she hits someone’s child because of the phone conversation that caused her to run the stop sign? Will Sarah say “sorry” to the parents again and expect things to get better? “Sorry” cannot fix many things and preventing those things from happening by acting responsibly is the best action for one to take– people should not drive when talking to a passenger, using a cell phone or when they have distractions of any kind. Talking to a passenger can immensely distract drivers. Keeping an eye on the speedometer, the road, other cars, upcoming signs and traffic lights in conjunction with holding a conversation with a passenger is quite a challenge. David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah estimates that only 2% of people can safely multitask while driving. According to his estimation, a driver has a one in fifty chance of having the skills necessary to multitask while continuing to drive safely. Quite a risk to take. To assume that one has those skills is a major hazard. Strayer’s studies suggest, however, that a driver having a passenger can actually cause less harm than talking on a cell phone. Talking on the phone, even a hands-free set, can dangerously distract a person. When one has a passenger in the car, the passenger can at least notice anything up ahead that will require the driver’s attention. On the other hand, a person on the phone cannot see what the driver sees, and the driver may feel compelled to continue the conversation even if he or she knows a right-hand turn at a stoplight is coming up which will require his or her awareness of the behaviors of oncoming traffic. Strayer’s studies showed that, when talking on a hands-free set, half of the drivers in the test failed to pull over at the designated area. With so many people using cell phones while driving, the thought of fifty percent of those drivers not paying attention to their driving should be a frightening one. Drastically worse consequences can occur than simply missing an intended turn, though. A simple distraction is all it takes. Drinking coffee or changing the radio station may only take a second, but at that second, someone might unexpectedly run a stop sign and that distracted second will deduct from the driver’s reaction time. Focusing on driving with full attention is necessitated by the need to continue safe and legal driving and to keep an eye out for other drivers that might practice unsafe driving. According to an AAA press release, one-third of all South Carolina crashes in 2006 and 2007 resulting in fatalities, property damage and injuries had distracted driving as a contributing factor. Also, in 2008, for the same time period in South Carolina, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study determined that eight out of ten crashes and 65% of near-crashes occurred when the use of a cell phone distracted a driver. Factoring in other possible distractions would make the numbers in the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s results even higher. Often, with the rise of an action’s popularity, the social acceptance of it also rises. However, even if something has a society’s acceptance, it may not be the right thing. Many people do drive with distractions but the higher number of distracted drivers only increases the danger. And while, unfortunately, people have begun to accept such behaviors, distracted driving increases the possibility of accidents and fatalities, and murder has not yet become socially acceptable. Difficulties arise with the enforcement of laws against such common and widespread behaviors and while maybe that fact will one day change, for now, practicing careful driving and the use of good sense on the road can start us on the road to improvement. Drivers should use caution and give their full attention to the road. They should reduce or avoid the influence of talkative passengers, cell phone use and other distractions which interrupt careful driving. Together, through such careful actions, we can reduce accidents and the social acceptability of harmful driving practices. The next time Sarah travels on the road as a driver, she’ll be sure to give her full attention to driving– the next time she travels as a passenger, I hope she’ll allow her driver the safety of having an environment that will lend itself to careful driving practices, and one should be sure to follow in her footsteps!