Friday, March 4, 2011

Distracted by the Distraction

Distracted driving is a serious issue.  Unfortunately, we are getting somewhat
distracted on the issue.  Cell phones
have become the focal point of the discussion. At the recent Distracted Driving Summit Conference in Washington D.C.
the overwhelming focus was on the dangers of phones/texting – creating laws and
enforcing these regulations.  No debate
that phones/texts are a serious distraction while driving.

It is the easy issue to talk about.  However, many people may be surprised at
where this stacks up in the total universe of distractions that result in
collisions.  According to a study on
distractions (Glaze, Ellis), cell phone usage does not fall within the top
three of major distractions that were correlated with collisions.  Cell phone usage represented only 3.9% of the distractions that were
associated with collisions.  Bigger
distractions included items outside of the car (35%), the radio (7%) and eating
(4%).  If we are going to effectively
deal with reducing distracted driving, should we not spend a little more time
understanding the other 96% of the problem?

Another key statistic is 3 seconds.  It would appear that there is some magic
around the length of time the driver becomes distracted.  Distractions are a part of driving.  What we are not providing is effective
training on how to manage these distractions. The overwhelming messaging to drivers is to eliminate distractions.  In Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation’s
video on distracted driving seems to be a bit over the top to be taken
seriously.  Yes if a driver juggles a
cell phone AND an iPod they are
unreasonably distracted – not to mention the difficulty of controlling the
steering while holding two devices.

Here is a possible intervention.  First help drivers understand why they get
distracted.  People are naturally curious
and the eyes are actively attracted to new information.  They will look at the flashing lights at the
side of the road.  The key is to keep
this to a minimum.  Act like a
camera.  Take a quick snapshot and
process the information as you look back to the road ahead.  Next time you are in the car, practise taking
snapshots – you will be amazed at how much information you will pick up in
under a second.  More information will
result in better decisions; thus, addressing the biggest cause of collisions –
poor decision making.