A Dangerous New Normal: Distracted Drivers

A Dangerous New Normal: Distracted Drivers

A Dangerous New Normal: Distracted Drivers

Driving is one of the only things most of us do on a daily basis that can kill or injure someone.

Andy Pilgrim started the Traffic Safety Education Foundation in 2008. He is a professional race driver and a contributing writer/vehicle tester to Automobile Magazine.

Adaptation is a useful genetic tool; you might remember some guy named Darwin wrote about it over 150 years ago.

The U.S. distracted driving epidemic is getting worse and worse. Traffic deaths passed 40,000 in 2016, a 14% increase over 2014. We have not seen an increase like this in decades. I can honestly say my driving has adapted more in the past few years than in my other 34 years of driving. Why? “To survive!” Thanks to Mr. Darwin, again.

Driving is something we should all take very seriously. It is one of the only things most of us do on a daily basis that can kill or injure ourselves, friends, family and even people we don’t know. Despite this very real fact, people choose to allow distractions to take over their driving more and more, something we all have to adapt to, as drivers.

Here are some of my recent driving adaptations that have helped me stay safer over the past several years.

My first driving adaptation was mental: it was to accept the reality that our roads in the U.S. are more dangerous than perhaps ever before. All drivers need to see and process the tell-tale signs when someone around them is driving distracted. The signs of distracted driving I see most frequently these days include: a vehicle wandering in and out of its lane or wandering within the lane, a vehicle not keeping up with the flow of traffic or not moving for many seconds after receiving a green light, a vehicle turning with no signal and a vehicle accelerating and decelerating erratically.

Is it fair we have to watch out so diligently for these dreadful drivers? No, but adapting and paying full attention beats getting into a collision with these people.

Consistently checking my mirrors has always been part of my driving; another adaptation is that I now take even more glances in my mirrors than I used to. The reason? We know tailgating is dangerous, but there is a good chance today’s tailgaters are also driving distracted. If I have a tailgater behind me, I leave much more room in front of my vehicle or move to another lane to get away from them.

One of the most dangerous changes in recent years has come with drivers using their smartphones while driving and combining that with some other distraction. Many fatigued drivers, eating and drinking drivers, drivers with passengers and drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs use their smartphones while driving. Even drivers using smartphone GPS use their smartphones at the same time to text and talk. This means we all have to adapt to even more distracted drivers than before.

No driver is capable of using a smartphone while driving and also being totally aware of what’s going on all around them. Even using a hands-free smartphone or Bluetooth is a serious mental distraction and no safer than hand held. No one should be on the phone while driving, hands-free or otherwise, yet, for now, we must anticipate many drivers doing so in order for us to react appropriately and stay safe.

I hope all of you take this information to heart; things have changed over the past few years on U.S. roads in a very deadly way. Traffic deaths and injuries are increasing every year and drivers who choose to manipulate, look at or talk to their smartphones while driving are a massive threat to everyone’s safety. We need to adapt our driving awareness like never before. Maybe if Darwin were alive today he would have written, “survival of the least distracted.”

We have a long way to go yet this winter, let’s do our best to make sure we all make it through safely.

Take care out there!


GM Foundation