1. Body activities. A driver becomes distracted while putting on make-up or shaving. Yes, I have seen guys with their cordless shavers exceeding the speed limit, late for work, looking in the rear-view mirror to make sure they don’t miss a spot. If you reach into the bag to look for that last french fry or try stuffing that monster burger that drips sauce all down your shirt, that’s distracted driving. Changing the radio station or searching for a song on the dashboard display requires you to take your eyes off the road. Smokers, have you ever stuck a cigarette in your mouth and spent several minutes shaking, trying to milk the last of the butane out of your lighter? Parents know how frustrating it is to have children buckled in the back seat fighting, yelling, or throwing stuff at each other. The temptation to turn around, reach back to settle them, and take one’s eyes off the road is strong. You’d be better off pulling over where it is safe to do any of these. All this monkey business and more pulls your attention away from the most critical activity that requires your complete attention.
2. Emotional State. Your mental state is a little different from driving impaired, where you are under the influence of a substance. Perhaps you receive the terrible news that someone you love suffered injury or death and you need to get to where they are as soon as possible. It might be a good idea to ask someone else to drive you. Maybe you fought with your partner, and you decide clearing your head means getting in your car. It’s surprising how many people get behind the wheel to leave after an argument. A walk might be the better choice.
3. New route. Driving through unfamiliar territory can be distracting. Your eyes may wander to foreign landmarks, or you may not know which way to turn. Fiddling with an app on your phone on an untraveled street or highway forces your fingers and eyes away. Check the route before you start the car. Follow the path to your destination on your phone or computer before leaving, watching the turns and distances. You’ll be familiar with the course, and the voice instructions from the app will make more sense as you drive, keeping your eyes on the road. Scenic drives often entice the driver to look. Find a place to pull over and park if you encounter that breath-taking panorama or feature that you must enjoy.
4. Electronic devices. Cell phones, smartphones, personal mp3 players, and other hand or palm devices attach to our hands like extra appendages. It won’t be long before science figures out a way to connect us directly to our gadgets. Meanwhile, we still interface with them through hearing, sight, and touch, all of which take us away from driving an automobile safely.
I will not bore or scare you with all the statistics of how many people die each month or year in car accidents. All I can tell you is I have been a near victim of a distracted driver. As a pedestrian in a crosswalk, I had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. She was so engrossed in her telephone conversation that she ran a red light and crossed tracks, barely escaping being hit by a 50-ton transit train. The driver kept going, oblivious to what had just happened.
Auto insurance claims departments are keeping track of how many accidents involve a distracted driver. The figures are staggering. Oregon passed in 2010 one of the strictest driving while distracted laws in the nation. However, I still see several drivers a day talking on the phone and texting. Because of a loophole or ambiguity in the law, it was revised and clarified that only emergency personnel and public utility workers while on duty may use cell phones up to the ear. All others must use a hands-free device. Under 18 are restricted from use entirely, with or without a hands-free device. The ambiguity before under the 2010 law was that self-employed drivers who depended on driving a lot for a living were exempt from the hands-free law. As of January 1, 2012, the law is unambiguous. All drivers, including self-employed business owners who use their cars to conduct business, must obey the hands-free device law or be cited for driving distracted.
Hands-free devices have come down in price. Most new cars have a Bluetooth option built into the automobile. A driver who must communicate through these devices has no excuse not to purchase and use one or learn how to connect to the car. The cost of a ticket and the increased cost of car insurance would pay for ten hands-free appliances. I would suggest that you prepare all of that hardware before you start the engine. And, if you can avoid the use of that technology altogether, do so. You might save your life or someone else’s. Pay attention to the road and traffic control devices. Watch out for pedestrians and other drivers who are careless with the use of their telephones. Your reaction time is impaired if you must figure out how to put down your phone while avoiding a collision. No one wants to drop their phone on the ground. Stop monkeying around.