National Safety Council
April 22, 2019
Each day, at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes. Tragically, 100% of these crashes are preventable.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month so it’s an important opportunity to look at some of the factors distracting human drivers, and what we can do about it.
As a nonprofit public safety organization dedicated to eliminating preventable crashes on the road, at work, in homes, and in communities, The National Safety Council is focused on telling the stories of people impacted by distracted driving. Each April, we highlight some of the most compelling insights we’ve gained through our distracted driving research. Here are just a few:
There are three essential tools every human driver needs: eyes, hands, and a mind. Yet, at any given time, as many as 7% of drivers on the road might be driving without their minds fully focused on driving. That’s because they’re talking on the phone while driving or manipulating electronic devices.
Research shows that any cell phone conversation, including hands-free conversations, increases the risk of crashes by four times and cuts what your brain “sees” on the road by half.
Talking on the phone and driving both require mental focus. A brain focused on a phone conversation can’t pay as much attention to the road, or respond as quickly to unexpected risks and hazards that may arise.
Talking on the phone while driving is common, and many people believe they can multitask and drive. However, this is a myth. The brain can really only focus on one “thinking” task at a time. Since talking on the phone and driving are both “thinking” tasks, the brain isn’t doing both things at the same time, it’s simply switching between them.
Drivers talking on the phone while driving– even those talking hands-free–experience “inattention blindness”, a state where they don’t really see what’s in front of them because they’re distracted. This kind of distraction is called a “cognitive distraction” because it affects the brain. Research shows that drivers using cell phones may fail to “see” up to 50% of the information in their driving environment.
As a driver, you can also eliminate the use of anything that takes your mind and focus off the road. Touch screens and other in-vehicle technology may feel convenient, but they require drivers to take their eyes off the road to check the visual feedback and cues from the screen. Cars used to have knobs and buttons that drivers could manipulate based on touch alone. Screens are flat and users can’t get feedback through touch alone. The best choice is to avoid using any technology that takes your mind off driving.
People do all sorts of things behind the wheel that are distractions from the task of driving. This includes eating, personal grooming, reading, playing games and trying to reach objects that may have fallen. Any of these contribute to driving risk.
Despite the fact that distracted driving crashes are preventable, humans continue to drive distracted. Self-driving technology like Waymo’s offer the promise of eliminating distracted driving because the goal of a fully self-driving vehicle is that a rider is never asked to drive during the trip. Self-driving technology remains constantly vigilant by monitoring the road in 360 degrees, anticipating what may happen next. Unlike human drivers, fully self-driving technology does not get distracted.
It can feel so hard to hang up and just drive, especially when family members and others may be demanding our attention, and one missed phone call can feel like a crisis. However, the risk just isn’t worth it.
Take the National Safety Council’s pledge now to just drive and refrain from talking on the phone while driving.