At Full Attention

Randy Grider
Editor
rgrider@eTrucker.com

We’ve all seen drivers doing things that make us feel uneasy about sharing the road with them. It’s not abnormal to see people reading books, jotting down notes, putting on makeup or eating what sometimes looks like a full-course meal.

Recently, Truckers News surveyed 646 truckers concerning the most dangerous distractions they see from other drivers. Seventy percent listed talking on the cell phone as their top choice. We’ve all witnessed this. I believe dialing, searching for the phone and answering an incoming call are probably where the greatest dangers lie. Anything that takes one’s eyes off the road is a potential accident waiting to happen.

Other top distractions listed by our respondents included reading (25 percent), eating and drinking (13 percent) and personal grooming (9 percent). Fourteen percent cited other distractions, ranging from playing on laptops to fighting with spouses to sexual acts.

While driving and talking on a cell phone has garnered a great deal of attention from the media and lawmakers – some states, including first-in-line New York, have made the practice illegal – it is not the most distracting driver behavior, according to a recently released study. Leaning and reaching take the top spot.

The study, prepared by the University of North Carolina for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, shows most drivers are guilty of common distractions. These include leaning and reaching for something in the vehicle (97 percent – about 91 percent of the time it was for the radio controls), eating and drinking (71 percent), conversing with passengers (77 percent), reading and writing (40 percent) and personal grooming (46 percent). Surprisingly, only 30 percent were guilty of talking on the cell phone while driving. Smoking and driving occurred with only 7 percent of the participants.

The study used cameras mounted inside the vehicles of 70 volunteers. The sample was taken randomly from three-hour segments. AAA’s goal is to generate awareness among states’ departments of safety in order to create programs to address the problem of driver distractions.

The AAA study also breaks down the percentage of total time a particular person is involved with a particular distraction. Talking with passengers was No. 1 at 15 percent. Others include eating and drinking (5 percent), reaching and leaning (4 percent) and smoking (2 percent). All other distractions accounted for 1 percent or less of a driver’s time behind the wheel.

Safety experts estimate that 25 percent to 50 percent of all accidents are caused by some kind of driver distraction. So what’s the solution? Banning cell phones appears to be the most popular answer of politicos despite what statistics show. I guess it’s hard to regulate reaching and leaning.

I’m sure cell phones are culprits in some accidents. The same holds true for grooming, eating and talking passengers in the back seat. Some drivers are able to drive carefully while multi-tasking. But many are not.

Instead of continuing to complicate the situation with new laws, we need to take more commonsense measures. First, educate the driving public. This starts in high school with driver education programs. Bad driving habits begin early, but so do good driving behaviors. Make sure all state driver manuals address the problem. A question or two about driver distractions in the written license exam wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Second, enforce the current laws. If a driver is driving recklessly, no matter what is causing him or her to do so, that person should be punished for reckless driving.
Third, if you see a distracted driver driving recklessly, report it. You or no one else on the road should have to suffer the consequences of an idiot.

Of course, there are always the bizarre driving habits of some people that boggle the mind. Case in point is the Michigan woman who was breastfeeding her 7-month-old baby while cruising down the Ohio Turnpike at 65 miles per hour earlier this year.

In addition to reckless driving, the woman, who claims to belong to an obscure religious sect, was charged with several other violations – the most serious of which was child endangerment. We don’t need a breastfeeding ban for drivers. We need motorists who use their heads – and they should be pointed in the direction they are going.

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