Hands-off? Not so fast!

Claudia S

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Distracted driving is dangerous, claiming 3,450 lives in 2016 alone. NHTSA leads the national effort to save lives by trying to prevent this dangerous behavior. Their motto is “Get the facts, get involved, and help us keep America’s roads safe.” What Is Distracted Driving? Distracted driving is any activity that takes attention away from driving. Factors that distract drivers include using your phone to talk or text, eating or drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, messing with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system or anything else that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. Texting is a huge distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 or more seconds at a time. At 55 mph, that’s the same as driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed! You probably can’t walk down the hallway with your eyes closed without hitting something so imagine doing it on a roadway with other drivers going 75 MPH. You cannot drive safely unless driving has your complete attention. Anything else you engage in is a distraction that increases your risk of crashing. Eating and using your cell phone are some of the biggest distractions because so many drivers use them for long periods of time each day. We have all seen other drivers looking at their phones in the lanes next to us, but when you are the one on your phone, you often don’t realize that driver is you. New technology in vehicles is enabling us to be exposed to more distractions behind the wheel than ever before. Just because a manufacturer puts “infotainment” dashboards in a car, doesn’t mean it is safe but fifty-three percent of drivers believe that to be the case. Many state laws focus on handheld bans, and many drivers believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device. However, contrary to popular opinion, these technologies actually distract our brains long after we’ve used them. While these technologies may be convenient, they are not necessarily safe. Understanding that technology is not a replacement for actively focusing on driving is a first step in making roads a safer place. More states should ban handheld cell phone use and car manufacturers should limit the in-dash infotainment options available while the vehicle is moving. Cars go too fast and there is too much risk to having distracted drivers to settle for anything less.