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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011

Distracted driving linked to injury crashes

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According to information at www.distraction.gov, the official government website for distracted driving, there are three different types of distraction that can set up drivers for a crash. They are:

• Visual — taking your eyes off the road

• Manual — taking your hands off the wheel

• Cognitive — taking your mind off what you're doing

Texting is perhaps the classic example of distracted driving. What makes it so dangerous is it involves all three types of distraction. However, distracted driving is not limited to texting or talking on a cellphone. Here are some other examples that fit the description:

• Eating and drinking

• Talking to passengers

• Grooming

• Reading, including maps

• Using a smartphone or navigation system

• Watching a video

• Fiddling with the car stereo

To combat the distracted driving problem, the Department of Defense has banned drivers from using hand-held cellphones on military installations. Also, many states and municipalities have joined the campaign to eliminate distracted driving by imposing their own restrictions.

Have you ever noticed the driver in the lane beside you holding a cheeseburger in one hand, a drink in the other and steering with their knee? Such “dashboard dining,” a common practice for some motorists, is also distracted driving. What about you? Have you ever tried to avoid spilling your soda or having the pickle squirt out of your hamburger while changing lanes? Be honest.

Chances are, if you drove on post this morning, you may have driven distracted. After all, what happens after you show your Common Access Card to the gate guard? You're expected to be on your way, all the while fumbling to get your CAC back into its carrier. While both hands are busy doing that, how are you steering with your elbow? And where are you looking and what is your mind focused on?

The simple solution to the “CAC distract” is to put it in your shirt pocket, toss it on an empty seat or maybe put it in the cup holder in the console. Whatever you choose, it's a lot safer to put it back in the holder after arriving at work and shutting down your vehicle.

A closer look at data from www.distraction.gov reveals some surprising facts from agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

• Twenty percent of injury crashes in 2009 reportedly involved distracted driving.

• Of those killed in distracted driving crashes, 995 reportedly involved a cellphone-distracted motorist. • In 2009, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and an estimated 448,000 were reported injured in distracted driving crashes.

• Drivers younger than 20 are the most at risk, with distracted driving playing a role in 16 percent of all highway fatalities for this age group.

• The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports drivers using hand-held devices quadruple their risk for injury-producing accidents compared to those who stay off the phone.

So how badly does distracted driving impair a driver's skills? The University of Utah found drivers using cellphones, including hands-free models, had similar reaction times to motorists with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent (legally drunk).

The statistics prove distracted driving is dangerous. But the real question is the one you'll have to ask yourself: “What am I doing behind the wheel that is more important than driving?” Then ask yourself, “Is it more important than living?”

Editor’s Note: This article was compiled by The Knowledge Staff.

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