Drivers texting and engaging in other activities is something that I have written posts on several times in the past. Since the last one, my wife Helen was involved in her first car accident in 40 years of driving when a driver (who was texting) drove through a red light and slammed into the front of her car. The distracted driver was travelling at 60 kilometres an hour and if anyone had been on the pedestrian crossing in the path of the car, they would have surely been killed or, at the very least, seriously injured.
A fortnight later, at the same intersection, the same thing occurred.
While in London last week, the front page of The Mirror had the story of a woman caught driving while eating her cereal out of a bowl on the way to work.
Any such behaviour does clearly increase the likelihood of an accident.
In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) produced a study in 2010 listing the top causes of distraction and a measure of the increased risk of each distraction (vs. normal driving.) The results were:
- Distraction Risk Multiple Reaching for something 8.82
- Insect in vehicle 6.37
- Looking at something outside the vehicle 3.70
- Reading 3.38
- Applying makeup 3.13
- Using phone (dialing/texting) 2.79
- Inserting/retrieving CD (Adjusting radio/temperature) 2.25
- Eating 1.57
- Drinking from an open container 1.03
- Interacting with passenger in adjacent seat 0.50
The research shows that reaching for something is almost nine times riskier than normal driving.
What surprised me was that texting was not higher up the list. I genuinely believe it should be rated higher.
While some of these physical distractions, such as putting on makeup, eating cereal from an open bowl or reading, demonstrate a more obvious lack of wisdom, from what I see as I drive and walk around Australian roads is that far too many drivers still use their phones to text or call while they drive.
Another surprise to me was that the use of hands-free devices, according to the studies, is not significantly different from holding the phone, despite the legality of one vs. the other.
While the effectiveness of voice-based texting apps needs further study, those apps that require manipulation of the phone or menus do not in my mind provide any benefit.
Despite what many of us believe, all the studies I have seen show that humans, (male or female) cannot successfully multi-task; something always suffers. When a person concentrates on a reading or writing a text, or having a conversation instead of the road ahead, his or her driving suffers.
Zurich North America recently released a Fact Sheet which suggests strategies to reduce the risk which in the main are just common sense. I reproduce a section of the Fact Sheet designed for those that own or manage motor fleets as follows:
Establish times during the day when the driver can pull off the road and be available for communications (whether text, email or telephone).
Work out the frequency and times, based on expected needs and the job being done.
Ignore the phone
Calls cannot always be scheduled.
Establish a culture where allowing callers to leave messages to be returned at the earliest convenience (i.e., when it is safe to do so) is acceptable.
Defensive driving techniques provide more time to respond to changing driving conditions.
• Pre-set temperature and radio controls.
• Clear windows of frost, ice, snow or debris before driving.
• Increase following distance. (Zurich recommends at least four seconds in normal conditions in a sedan and longer in larger vehicles or adverse conditions.)
• Understand what is occurring ahead of the vehicle. (Zurich recommends scanning at least ten seconds ahead.)
• Drive for conditions. In inclement weather, slow down and allow for increased stopping distances and poor visibility.
• Deal with distractions in a safe location, while parked.
I know that we are all time poor and we are bombarded with emails and texts but I do urge all of us to be mindful of the additional risk that driving while distracted creates.