Why Distracted Driving is the New ‘Drunk’ Driving

Why Distracted Driving is the New ‘Drunk’ Driving

Distracted driving has been found to be equivalent to and even worse than driving drunk. The question every driver should ask themselves — am I driving distracted?

There’s little argument that distracted driving is the scourge of today’s roadways.

But it may be surprising just how significant a problem it is. Consider this, a recent Ohio State University study of Ohio drivers found that between 2003 and 2013 (the period covering the introduction of the first smartphones) there was a 35% increase in distracted-driving fatalities and a 23% increase in serious injuries. Today, in Ohio, in-vehicle distractions account for 48% of crashes, 18% of crash fatalities and 16% of serious crash injuries.

And this is just the statistics for a single state.

According to the latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, 3,450 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured nationwide because of distracted-driving crashes.

While these numbers may be surprising — they really shouldn’t be. A 2006 University of Utah study found that not only is distracted driving (for the study — the distraction was a handheld phone) is equivalent to and may be worse than driving drunk. Surprisingly, in the study, not a single drunk participant was involved in a study-related “crash,” while the distracted drivers were. This is not to say that driving drunk is “safer,” but points to how dangerous it is to drive while distracted.

In light of these appalling numbers, every driver should be asking — do I ever drive distracted?

Breaking the Distraction Habit

Particularly in today’s smartphone era, it’s easy to fall prey to distracted driving. Hands-free and voice-activated calling, texting, posting to social media — they’re all activities that are easy to turn into bad and potentially life-threatening habits.

If you have a distracted-driving habit, you should take steps to break it now. And if you don’t, you need to take steps not to develop bad habits.

The first step to break your habit is being conscious of them and avoiding developing any new ones (or any in the first place). The second step is to focus on avoiding distracting behaviors, including:

  • Multitasking: Drivers have one task when they’re behind the wheel — driving. Never multitask — text, post to social media, update your navigation system, fiddle with the entertainment system, or eat — while driving.
  • Get organized and store gear properly: If you’re a fan of Marie Kondo, apply her lessons to your vehicle and tidy it up. Make sure your vehicle is free of clutter and store all equipment and business essentials properly. Make any adjustments to mirrors and GPS before you hit the road.
  • Groom at Home: Being organized also extends to your personal grooming habits. There’s no reason not to get ready before you climb into your vehicle.
  • Keep your eyes (and mind) on the road: Though it almost goes without saying — stay focused on the road in front of you and not on billboards or a funny bumper sticker, and don’t daydream. Practice being present and focused.
  • Never drive drowsy: With long work hours and ever-increasing commutes, the incidences of drowsy driving are increasing — NHTSA estimates it is a factor in about 100,000 crashes each year. It’s another distracted driving behavior that’s equivalent to driving drunk. Monitors such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch can help you measure the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting, so you can make any adjustments to your sleep regimen, e.g., going to be earlier. If you’re driving and feel drowsy, pull off the road, get a cup of coffee or take a short nap.

Motivating Good Habits

Breaking a bad habit — such as distracted driving behaviors — takes work and commitment. According to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes, on average, about 66 days to solidify a habit. So if you do have a distracted driving habit, be patient, it’s going to several weeks of conscious effort for the good to push out the bad behaviors.

But it’s ultimately worth it — by staying focused on driving while you’re on the road you’re helping to keep yourself and everyone else on safe and healthy. And you’ll be doing your part to defeat the scourge of distracted driving. 

Drive Safely!

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