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In Part One of this series, we learned how driver conditioning contributed to the deaths of Sandy Johnson and her mother. We also learned how conditioning places all of us into a kind of “comfort zone” which puts us at risk on the roads.
Now we will look at a number of risks related to driver conditioning and learn how they can put us in danger behind the wheel.
Once I recognized conditioning as the underlying cause of the crash that killed Sandy and her mother, I began to wonder if, perhaps, conditioning played a role in other crashes, as well. Fueled with curiosity and a desire to prevent other families from experiencing the kind of tragedy mine had to endure, I evaluated multiple Accident Reports and studied the effects of “conditioning.” What I ultimately learned was that conditioning contributed to nearly all car crashes.
But what exactly is driver conditioning? It is referred to as the process by which drivers become conditioned to respond to traffic patterns and road conditions that remain consistent over an undefined period of time or distance.
A simple way to think of it is like this: once we become conditioned to an environment, we stop paying attention to that environment. On the road, this can be a serious risk. Here are some examples of this danger that you might recognize. As you read through them, ask yourself how many times you have experienced these risks yourself and how you might help your teen avoid them:
Mental Compromise – When we intentionally or unintentionally split our attention between driving and another activity or thought. (This is the mental state where distracted driving takes place, which is a consequence of driver conditioning.)
Examples – 1. Taking our eyes off the road to look at a passenger or something inside or outside the vehicle unrelated to driving: 2. Getting lost in thought; 3. Engaging in any activity not related to driving.
Cognitive Disengagement – When we drive without thought, and sometimes without any memory of having done so.
Explanation – This can take place anytime and anywhere our driving environment is not presenting us with a challenge, like when you drive the same route to work each day.
Tunnel Vision – When our peripheral vision is totally lost and all we focus on is a small section of roadway far-off in the distance.
Explanation – While experiencing Tunnel Vision, it is possible to drive through a fully controlled intersection with a traffic light, stop signs, or other informational devices, without realizing you are doing so.
Inattentional Blindness – When we fail to see specific objects that are well within our field of vision.
Examples – 1. When entering a highway and looking at oncoming traffic for cars and trucks, we may look right past a motorcyclist heading toward us; 2. When mentally focused on any situation, we can fail to see signs or other traffic control or warning devices in our direct line of vision.
Delayed Reaction Time – When experiencing any of the characteristics listed above, we are inclined to respond less quickly when confronted with a hazard. Since crash avoidance often requires an immediate action on the part of the driver, any delay can be catastrophic.
Examples – With a delay in our reaction time of merely one-half second, a vehicle traveling at 35 mph will travel 25+ feet; 55 mph will travel 40+ feet; and at 75 mph will travel over 53 feet.
Train Ourselves to Behave Inappropriately – When not challenged or forced to do the “right” thing behind the wheel, we may take short-cuts which can put us at risk. Whether it’s texting, eating or taking a call, these inappropriate behaviors can cause us to react to a hazard incorrectly or increase the odds of injury in the event of a crash.
Explanation – When we become conditioned to our driving environment, we become more comfortable and less attentive, which can lead to us taking inappropriate actions. If nothing bad happens as a result of those actions, we don’t necessarily think of them as bad and we are more likely to repeat them, creating a habit. If you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, for example, and you make it home safe, that might make you think that you can do it again without any consequences.
All of these examples contribute to crashes or increase the likelihood of injury in the event of a crash and all of them are made worse by driver conditioning, which is why your teen needs to be aware of them.
So what can we do about it? In Part Three of this series, I will address how The Sandy Johnson Foundation works to help protect teen drivers from these risks.
DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.
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