As we roll into the final month of the calendar year, many of us will be driving more than usual and, perhaps, driving longer distances on our holiday travels. With or without the frenzy of the holiday season, the greater D.C. traffic environment requires that we avoid distraction at all times while driving. Keeping safe and focused during the holiday season, as well as at all times of the year, can begin with the simple act of putting your cell phone away.
Adult drivers are just as likely as teenage drivers to text while driving, according to recent research conducted by the Pew Research Center. This same study points out that adult drivers are actually more likely to chat on their cell phones while driving than are teenage drivers. As we know, texting and talking on cell phones while driving leads to a high level of distraction.
Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2008, almost 20 percent of all crashes in the United States involved some type of distraction. Nearly 6,000 people died that year in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than a half million were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Your vision is considered the most important sense used while driving. It is estimated that drivers using cell phones look but fail to process and “see” up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment. “Inattention blindness” allows a stop sign, a running deer or a speeding car to go unnoticed until it is too late. Most of us will plan in advance of a holiday party by making sure we have a designated driver before we reach for a glass of wine or a beer. But we may not even think twice about answering our cell phone while driving. Using a cell phone, whether hands-free or not, will delay your driver reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent, according to a University of Utah study.
Many states now have laws that allow for hands-free cell phone use, yet hands-free devices fail to eliminate cognitive distraction. Based on more than 30 research studies compiled by the National Safety Council, none of the studies show any safety benefit to using hands-free phones while driving.
Why? Experts will tell us that human brains cannot perform two tasks at exactly the same time. Instead, the brain juggles tasks sequentially, switching between tasks very rapidly and leading us to believe we are multitasking. In reality, the brain shifts its focus and cannot possibly process all information. When the brain experiences an overload of sensory details, the driver cannot respond to unexpected hazards quickly enough to avoid a crash.
Headed out to shop and then off to a holiday party? Give your cell phone a holiday break and let it charge while you are traveling. Your phone will benefit by a quick charge and you will be more likely to arrive at your destination safe and sound and in the holiday spirit!