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Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Distracted driving has become such a problem in the United States that the National Safety Council (NSC) declared April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. With a theme of Just Drive, the NSC encourages everyone to put safety first while behind the wheel. Everything else can wait.

To prove its point, the NSC created a poster that it hopes to see posted in thousands of places in April and beyond. The poster, called It Was Just, states the following common excuses that people give for driving while distracted:

  • It was just a quick call
  • It was just a bite
  • It was just a short trip
  • It was just a text
  • It was just one drink
  • It was just one glance
  • It was just a picture
  • It was just an email

As you can see, none of these activities have anything to do with driving. Engaging in them is simply not worth the risk of injuring yourself or others with whom you share the road.

What Qualifies as Distracted Driving?

Any activity that you engage in behind the wheel that draws your attention away from driving is a distraction. Sadly, it only takes a second of looking away from the road in front of you to cause a serious or fatal accident. Over 3,000 people die in crashes related to distracted driving every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The organization also indicates that close to 35,000 people annually sustain serious injuries due to distracting driving. Not surprisingly, texting or talking on a cell phone are the two leading causes of accidents attributed to distracted driving.

Understanding the Three Categories of Distracted Driving

Depending on the type of distracted driving you engage in, it can involve several of your bodily senses or just one of them. As an example, imagine that you’re driving in town and see someone running on the sidewalk to catch a bus. You suddenly feel more interested in whether that person will catch the bus on time than you do with the task of driving. This is a prime example of a visual distraction. You’re briefly looking away from the road in front of you, but your hands remain appropriately on the steering wheel and you’re still thinking mainly about driving.

Continuing with the above example, imagine that you stare intently at the person on the sidewalk for several seconds because he or she reminds you of someone you know. Your attention shifts from driving to thinking if it is indeed that person. You have now engaged in both a visual and a cognitive distraction. That is because you are thinking more about something unrelated to driving than you are to the task at hand.

Where things really start to get dangerous is when you allow yourself to become visually, cognitively, and manually distracted all at the same time. A manual distraction is when you remove one or both of your hands from the steering wheel to complete another activity. It could be as simple as adjusting the radio station, but let’s assume that you decide to text a friend for this example. You describe the person running down the sidewalk to catch a bus and ask if your friend knows the person’s name.

Even though you have engaged in all three types of distraction, it’s likely that less than a minute has passed. Unfortunately, that’s plenty of time to get into an accident. This is the very reason that it’s so dangerous to text or use your smartphone in any way while driving. You could certainly fall into all three categories of distraction with other behaviors as well. There is simply no way you can respond appropriately and in enough time when your eyes, hands, and mind are elsewhere.

The National Safety Council Urges All Drivers to Sign the Just Drive Pledge

As part of the awareness campaign it sponsors in April, the NSC has created a pledge that it wants all drivers to read, sign, and share. After signing the pledge online, you can easily share it to your social media accounts. The pledge begins by agreeing not to drive distracted in any way and then lists these specific situations:

  • Text or call someone else when you know that person is driving
  • Have any type of phone conversation, even if you’re using Bluetooth or a hands-free set
  • Enter information into a Global Positioning System (GPS) while your car is in motion
  • Send a Snapchat or text to anyone
  • Take video shots or pictures inside the car
  • Send or check emails
  • Update or check any of your social media accounts

The NSC also offers numerous free resources to individuals, groups, and employers wishing to spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving. If you have teenage children who drive, it’s also a good idea to require them to sign the pledge. Be sure that the young driver in your home understands your expectations and the consequences for choosing to drive distracted. Most importantly, set a good example yourself by turning off your phone when you’re behind the wheel and tuning out anything else that tries to compete for your attention.

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