Are you distracted?
As seen in the July 2009 edition of The Driver magazine.
Now that the nice weather is upon us, it’s time to go for those family drives. You know what I’m talking about; the ones we hated to go on as a kid, but will now drag our own family on now that we’ve grown up. According to Transport Canada, most crashes occur during the summer months. We often think about the winter season as the worst months to drive in, but the truth of the matter is that summer is more dangerous for us as drivers.
Since the weather is nicer, we tend to be in our vehicles more often. We tend to take more vacations during the warmer weather, which means we need to be ready for all things we do to ourselves. We distract ourselves more than other people distract us. For years we’ve tried to ignore the fact that what happens inside the vehicle is normal. It’s not and we need to smarten up as drivers. Improving your cognitive skills to allow you to divide your attention can be extremely helpful to stay more alert as a driver.
Cell phones are a major distraction these days. We do our best to help the driver keep their vehicle under control by having hands free devices. This gives us two hands on the wheel. That’s a good idea, but is it good enough? The Ontario government is introducing a new law that would prohibit all drivers to use a hand held electronic device while driving. This would include communication and entertainment devices such as cell phones and mp3’s. Ontario will be joining more than 50 countries worldwide that already have similar laws in place. Other provinces in Canada that have similar laws would be Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Let’s have a solid understanding of why this law needed to be put in place. If you’re having a conversation with someone on the phone and a problem is developing outside the vehicle, you’ll stop your conversation and try to deal with the situation as best as you can. The main problem here is the person on the other end of the phone keeps talking. They add to your distraction. It’s not the same as having a conversation with someone inside the vehicle. Your passenger would more than likely see the problem you were dealing with and stop talking. My best advice is to ignore your phone until you’ve reached your destination. Leave the phone on ‘silent’ so you won’t be distracted by the ringing. Driving takes full concentration, especially if you’re dealing with other drivers who aren’t making logical decisions of their own.
When I’m teaching a class of novice drivers at Young Drivers of Canada, I do a little test with them to help them understand distractions. Since most of my students have a cell phone, I ask them to turn it on and place it on the desk in front of them. On my command, I ask them to tell me what time it is from their cell phone while I time their response time. The quickest they can tell me is in 2.5 seconds. That can be a problem considering the minimum safe following distance in the city is 2 seconds. Therefore, if the driver in front of you slams on their brakes for a small child who just ran out in front of them just as you look down at your cell phone you’ll crash into the vehicle in front before you get a chance to look up. Think about it.
Let’s talk drinking. No, I’m not talking alcohol. I’m talking coffee, water and any other beverage. Each time you drink a beverage while the vehicle is in motion, you take your hand off the wheel and possibly your eyes briefly off the scene. Pick your moment to have a drink. While you’re stopped is the best place to sip a drink. The other time is when there are no other drivers or pedestrians near you. This reduces the chance of a swerve to avoid a potential problem. You’ll need two hands on the wheel for that.
The same can be said about eating while driving. I’ve seen many people eat a hamburger, a sub and even a big pizza slice while driving. If they happened to spill on themselves, where would they be looking? What if they looked down in their lap just as the driver ahead of them slammed on their brakes? Not enough reaction time to safely stop their vehicle.
How many times do we leave our garbage in the vehicle instead of disposing of it in the trash can? I’m not saying we’re slobs, but the coffee cup under the seat, the food wrappers we leave on the floor; these all can distract you, especially on a windy day with your windows down. They can blow around the vehicle forcing you to take your eyes off the road for a brief moment. Do yourself a favour, put the wrappers in the trash can and be done with it.
For over 100 years, our main distraction has been our passengers. They make us laugh, look at things outside the vehicle and get into heated discussions with us. How does that help us reach our destinations safely? Our attention needs to be on the road and the traffic around us. Set up vehicle rules that allow you the chance to concentrate on driving. Give your kids things to do in the vehicle while you drive. Put music on the stereo that all of your passengers will enjoy. This may help them leave you alone while you’re driving.
We need to stay focused on where we’re going and how we’re getting there. Put away the distractions and, just maybe, we can all drive a little more safely this summer!