Distracted Driving: How Safe Are You?

Someone once observed: You know a driver is from Los Angeles when the driver has one hand on the steering wheel, another hand on a cappuccino, while talking on a cell phone, foot solidly on the accelerator, and turning to check their hair in the mirror. That would have been funny except that the consequences of distracted driving are all too real. A client once came to us after a three-car pile up caused by a driver who was distracted while reaching for the doughnuts beside him.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, driver distractions are the leading cause of most vehicle crashes and near-crashes. Distractions are anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual), mind off the road (cognitive) or hands off the steering wheel (manual). Several studies have observed that 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction. The distraction occurred within three seconds before the vehicle crash!

The most common actions that caused distractions that lead to vehicle crashes are:

Cell phone use – Cell phones are everywhere and it seems everyone has them. Studies have shown that driving performance is lowered and the distraction level is increased for drivers who talk in their cell phones while driving. Using a hands-free device does not eliminate the distraction. Dialing, talking, or simply listening are all potential invitations to a crash.

Safety tip: Finish phone calls before starting to drive. If the phone rings in mid-drive, let voicemail pick up. Or pull over to answer. New cell phone laws took effect July 1, 2008 in California. Drivers age 18 and over may use hands-free devices while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use any type of hand-held or hands-free wireless phone while driving.

Reaching for an object inside the vehicle – Eating while driving, adjusting the radio or CD controls, adjusting the vehicle's climate controls or making entries on the GPS, are distracting activities that have often caused vehicular crashes. Also, attending to unruly children or unsecured pets while driving have been known to result in fatalities.

Safety tip: Stop to eat and enjoy the meal. Adjust the radio or the A/C and enter destinations on the GPS before driving away. Teach children the importance of concentration while driving and give them appropriate activities to occupy their time on the drive. Secure pets in pet carriers and do not let Fido sit on your lap. These are obviously common sense things to do but in our fast-paced, always-running late world, we may feel the need to take dangerous shortcuts.

Looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle. – Rubbernecking, we call it. We might want to take a closer look at an accident, a vehicle pulled over by police, construction work, a billboard advertisement, a scenic view, or we might be lost or new to the area and are looking at street names and addresses. These activities take the eyes and mind off the road. Any and all of these have led to multi-car pileups and fatalities.

Safety tip: Focus. Also, perhaps grandma's sage exhortation applies: While remaining alert, mind your own business.

Reading – Reading a map, directions from your smart phone, a book, even a newspaper – welcome to the world of multi-tasking. Some would check e-mail, read text messages, and type their reply. Others consider their vehicles their second office and extend their work activities there: typing on a laptop, making business calls, and writing notes or reports.

Personal grooming – Applying makeup, tooth-brushing (yes, this happens!), shaving, and hair grooming are some of the reasons why cars, bodies and lives can shatter in three seconds. We once had a client who sustained a broken collar bone from a car crash and required three surgeries because another driver ran a red light while trying to fix his contact lenses on the rear-view mirror.

Safety tip: Driving is already a multi-tasking activity, the mind and body simultaneously engaged. Adding another activity, or several other activities, to the mix simply increases the of someone getting severely hurt.

But, no matter how careful and safe you were, if the unthinkable happened and you are in an accident, remember the following:

  1. Get immediate medical help.
  2. Gather information, such as the name, driver license, license plate, address of other driver/s , and their insurance carriers, the names of witnesses and photos.
  3. Document your injuries and damages by taking photos of your condition and keeping your medical bills.
  4. Seek experienced legal help.

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