According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,166 people were killed due to distracted driving in 2017. From 2012-2017, 9% of all fatal crashes were due to distracted driving. That 9% amounted to about 3,285 people each year for the five year period of time. That is approximately 16,425 people if you do the math. That is very sad.
When I think of distracted driving my immediate thought goes to cell phones and sending and receiving text messages while driving. The message is clear about that. Texting while driving is a definite NO NO! In fact, 20 states now have laws against using cell phones while driving. It’s probably best to put your phone on silent and vow not to look at it unless you are completely stopped or have arrived at your destination.
The NHTSA defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving”. In addition to cell phone use, there are many forms of distracted driving. Have you ever driven past someone who was putting on make-up, shaving (men), reading a book, tending to children in the back seat, eating, falling asleep (drowsy), or lost in thought? Well, you probably could not tell if they were lost in thought.
The distracted driving that I can relate to (besides cell phones if I am completely honest) are eating, tending to children in the back seat, lost in thought, and drowsiness. My husband and I are frequently on the road to visit our out of state children and grandchildren. We have been guilty many times of eating a sandwich while driving on the interstate. It saves time, and we are all about “making good time” on the road. Secondly, I have been guilty of tending to children in the car while driving! I remember when our children were small. Many times I had to take my eyes off of the road for a second or two to glance into the rear-view mirror at the children in the back seat. I either was checking to see if they were asleep or telling them to stop arguing! Have you ever been “lost in thought” while driving? I have. It frequently happens to me when I am driving around town. There have been a few times where I actually forgot where I was going while I was driving!! Thankfully it hasn’t happened since I retired from teaching! I blame it on the stress of being a teacher! Teaching is not the only stressful career. Maybe you are stressed and have been “lost in thought” while driving a time or two. The last one for me is driving while drowsy or tired. We used to try to drive all night when the kids were young when we drove to Florida for spring break. There was considerably less traffic in the middle of the night and the kids would be asleep. The only problem was it was really difficult after 2:00AM. No matter how much caffeine I consumed, I would get to the point where the road started looking blurry. That’s when we would change drivers. Thankfully, we made it safely all of those years. I wonder how many others on the road after midnight are drowsy drivers. Nowadays we either fly if we are traveling long distances, or we stay in a hotel and sleep at night! It takes too long to recover from a drive all night kind of trip!
Can you think of other distractions while driving? On a recent road trip I decided to see for myself how many drivers were distracted while driving. I kept data for 100 drivers on the way to our destination, and then I did it again for 100 more drivers on the way home. On the way there, I recorded this information mid morning on a Friday morning while we were on the interstate. On the way home it was a Tuesday afternoon during a driving rainstorm for half of the time, and it was also on the interstate. I found it interesting that 10/100 were distracted the first time and 9/100 the second time. So, the statistics for my observation of both trips were almost the same. Of the 10 who were distracted on Friday, 7 were on their cell phones talking, and the other 3 were distracted by looking for something between the seats, opening a sport bottle with no hands on the steering wheel, and looking for something in a wallet. Two of the distracted drivers were semi- drivers! I liked the fact that I did not see anyone texting while driving the first time I made my observations. Of the 9/100 on the way home, I am sorry to report that two of them were texting. I was really bummed when they messed up my statistics. I wanted to be able to report that no-one was texting. The other 7 consisted of the following: 2 talking on the phone, 2 looking at their phones, 2 opening a drink with no hands on the wheel / drinking something, and 1 looking at an invoice. I will say that during the rainstorm/ tornado warning part of the trip most people had their hands at 10 and 2! None of the distracted drivers this time around were semi drivers. My amateur data collection did not include age or gender, and it only included highway driving. It would be interesting to see if the stats are different in the city or around town, and by age group.
One thing is for sure, no matter how old you are or what gender you are, it only takes a matter of seconds to get into an accident. There will always be something that can cause a distraction while you are driving if you let it. It’s just not worth risking your life or someone else’s life. Be aware and stay safe while driving!
Jane Freeman is licensed in Property and Casualty Insurance at Peck and Wood Insurance.