The temptation is strong. You’ve been driving for hours and want some sort of diversion to break up the monotony. I’ll just check something real quick on Facebook. No big deal, right? I can do this. But then a brief glance turns into an extended thumb scroll. A text pops up on the screen, and you feel a compulsion to respond. You know better but just can’t seem to help it…
As you look down at your thumbs typing, you’re losing awareness of what’s happening on the road, putting yourself and the public at risk of a catastrophic collision.
The Dangers Are Well Documented
There has been quite a bit of research on distracted driving in the past few years. Consider these compelling stats:
- Text messaging increases your crash risk by 23 times (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute [VTTI]).
- Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which is roughly equivalent to covering the length of a football field blindfolded when traveling 55 mph (VTTI).
- Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]).
- Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other mobile devices increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times. (VTTI)
- In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and approximately 424,000 people were injured (NHTSA).
Distracted Driving Defined
So, what exactly is “distracted driving”?
NHTSA defines distraction as “a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the driving task to focus on another activity.” And the agency says that there are many types of distraction beyond texting and driving, such as talking to passengers, eating, and working a navigation system while driving.
NHTSA segments the common distractions that affect drivers into three categories:
- Visual distractions: Tasks that require the driver to look away from the roadway to visually obtain information.
- Manual distractions: Tasks that require the driver to take a hand off the steering wheel and manipulate a device or object.
- Cognitive distractions: Tasks that require the driver to think about something other than driving.
Operating a cellphone while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three categories of distraction. And that’s one of the key factors that led to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issuing its final ruling in 2010 prohibiting texting and hand-held cellphone use while driving a commercial motor vehicle. (For details on FMCSA’s final rule, go to: fmcsa.dot.gov/driver-safety/distracted-driving.)
Here are the Key takeaways:
- No texting while driving. “So what qualifies as texting? Texting means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device. This includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, or pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile phone or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication.”
- No hand-held phone use while driving. Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are restricted from “reaching for or holding a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication, as well as dialing by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only operate a hands-free phone located in close proximity.”
So, How Can Drivers Legally Use a Mobile Phone?
FMCSA offers these points for allowable mobile phone use:
Place the device where you can easily reach it while restrained by properly adjusted safety belts.
- Use an earpiece or the speakerphone function.
- Use voice-activated or one-button touch features to initiate, answer, or terminate calls.
If you’re cited by law enforcement for misusing a mobile device while driving, you can expect civil penalties up to $2,750 and driver disqualification for multiple offenses. Motor carriers are also prohibited from requiring or allowing their drivers to text or use a hand-held mobile phone while driving and may be subject to civil penalties up to $11,000.
Addicted to Distraction?
If drivers know that texting, checking email, or scrolling through Facebook while driving is hazardous — and illegal — why do far too many drivers still do it? What makes the temptation so hard to resist?
One factor: addiction.
A survey commissioned by AT&T and Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that while over 90 percent of drivers say they know texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior—a classic sign of addiction. And three in four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.
“We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” says Dr. Greenfield in the press release announcing the AT&T study. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”
If you’re addicted to distraction, how can you fight it? There’s an app for that.
Dr. Greenfield’s study was commissioned in conjunction with AT&T’s launch of DriveMode, an iPhone and Android app that silences incoming text message alerts, turns on automatically when one drives 15 MPH or more, and turns off shortly after one stops. When activated, it automatically responds to incoming text messages so the sender knows the text recipient is driving.
The DriveMode app is one example of how technology can help take away the “triggers” — the beeps and buzzes — that compel you to glance at your phone and take your eyes off the road.
But you can also take low-tech approaches. For example, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) offers these tips for creating a cab environment that minimizes distraction:Turn off your cellphone or put it on silent mode and let calls go to voicemail while the vehicle is moving.
- Adjust mirrors and instrument panel lighting before entering the traffic flow.
- Get directions or program the GPS before you put the truck in gear.
- Eat a healthy meal before you get on the road, or pull completely off the road to eat or drink.
The Bottom Line
Don’t wait till you feel the urge to check your phone before trying to resist. By that point, it may be too late. Instead, recognize that choosing to engage in distracted driving is literally a life and death decision. So, make the right decision before starting up your truck by using technology and taking other precautions that remove the possibility of distraction while you’re on the road.