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Despite what you may hear or read; increases in traffic deaths and injuries over the last two years are not primarily due to cheap gas prices and a slightly better performing economy. The huge increase has been caused by drivers using smartphones while driving. By the end of 2014, everybody who wanted one had one. The impact on traffic fatalities and injuries since that time has been enormous.
I understand, using a smartphone while driving is not the only driving distraction. Eating while driving, fatigue, interacting with passengers and even drunk and impaired driving—all of these things are driving distractions. They’ve been around for decades. However, nothing comes close to the smartphone; mainly due to frequency and duration of use. Smartphone use while driving is the number one cause of distracted driving in the U.S., period.
I should mention vehicle infotainment systems briefly. They have the same ability to distract as a smartphone, even hands-free. All drivers — parents and teens alike – please be aware: Using an infotainment system while driving is a serious driving distraction. The logical reaction is, “Then why do they put them in my vehicle?” The stock auto manufacturer line is, “We’re giving the public what they want. Oh, and there is a note on page 126 of your owner manual telling you not to use it while driving, just so you know.”
There is unfortunately another depressing twist to consider: The drunk driver uses their smartphone while driving, as does the tired driver and the drugged driver. These all make terrifying and deadly combinations on our roads.
You may question why I include the drunk, drugged or fatigued driver in the distracted driving issue?
Let’s take the drunk driver. On the dangerous side, a drunk driver fights the effects of alcohol as they try to drive home, therefore the alcohol qualifies as a dangerous distraction to the driver. Now let’s look at the vulnerable side; you’re minding your own business driving down the road when you notice (because you’re not distracted) a drunk driver heading towards you, in your lane. Because you were paying full attention to your driving, you were not vulnerable and therefore had plenty of time to avoid an impact.
When you noticed that vehicle heading towards you and in your lane, you immediately viewed them as a dangerous (they’re in your lane!) distracted driver. You really didn’t care at that moment whether they were drunk, asleep or texting. You were just happy to have seen them early enough to react and get out of the way.
This is why I group all these points together as distracted driving issues, because they are.
Over the years, I have found the majority of people are convinced they are not dangerous as they drive distracted. Scientists call it cognitive dissonance; I call it rolling the dice with a big ration of overconfidence. I don’t waste time trying to change minds on this point. Instead, I talk about distracted drivers as being vulnerable drivers.
Research shows most drivers get into collisions and crashes because they didn’t see (vulnerable) the other vehicle (dangerous driver) before impact (“Officer, they came from nowhere”). People pay way more attention when they realize they are vulnerable; they don’t like it. Being in control can actually make you safer.
Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us ever do on daily basis. Unfortunately, millions of drivers in the US think it is perfectly ok to drive distracted. I have always paid full attention to my driving. I never wanted to possibly hurt someone in a crash and know in my heart I was not paying full attention to my driving at the time.
The side benefit to full attention is “seeing” the dangerous drivers out there early enough to avoid them, before they have a chance to get me. Oh, you think it sounds like a war game? Trust me, it’s not a game.
Realize what you and your teen are up against. Most drivers in the US have little to no driver education. They passed a test which doesn't actually test driving skills and ability. You doubt me? Over 50% of all drivers taking the US driving test these days do so with zero structured driver education and they still pass!
We cannot legislate ourself out of this mess. Parents (voters) will continue to resist any attempts to make the US driving test harder. Many want the convenience of their children driving as early as possible. There is also political pressure from other stakeholders who would like to maintain the status quo.
However, education has always been our friend when it comes to improving traffic safety. I believe you readers — parents — are the key to turning things around for the better. I am happy to tell you; several thousand parents have taken advantage of my free “Parent Driving Zone” DVD offer. I receive requests every day. The Parent Driving Zone DVD has traffic safety information for parents with children of ALL ages, from newborn to 18 years of age.
I know many of you are reading this blog because you have a teen driver in your life and you care about their safety. Keep in mind, this resource is for everyone.
If you are a grandparent and worried sick about your son or daughter driving your grandkids around while completely distracted, this DVD can help your whole family be safer.
I will continue to extend the free DVD offer to anyone reading this for as long as I have DVDs and funding from my foundation. Please go to www.tsef.org and use the request form to order your family a copy of The Parent Driving Zone DVD.
Thanks for reading. Take care out there, everyone.
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.