We all have busy lives. Technology puts our busy word at our figure tips as we are overwhelmed with information. Our connectivity to the world never stops. We are connected at work, home, and in our cars. As part of the National Safety Council’s (NSC) efforts to save lives they have designated June as National Safety Month. Saving lives and being safe requires us all to be less distracted-at least when we drive.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver distractions are the leading cause of traffic crashes, approximately 80%. Cell phones are the #1 distraction, contributing to thousands of crashes and deaths each year, affecting people everywhere including Rice County.
People accept texting while driving increases crash risk and Minnesota has made it illegal to text and drive. But cell phone conversation while driving is also risky; it distracts our minds from driving. Today there are more wireless connections in the U.S. then ever. And although public sentiment appears to be turning against cell phone use while driving, many admit they regularly talk or text while driving. The NSC estimates 26% of crashes involve drivers talking or texting on cell phones. Hands-free devices offer no safety benefit when driving and do not eliminate cognitive distraction. Cognitive distraction occurs when a driver is distracted by doing anything other than concentrating on driving such as talking to a passenger or talking on a cell phone. Cognitive distraction can result in inattention blindness, which occurs when a driver looks, but doesn't see, up to 50% of the driving environment including stop signs, pedestrians and other important visual clues needed to drive safely. A University of Utah study found drivers using a cell phone had a slower reaction time than drivers with a BAC of .08, the legal limit for being impaired here in Minnesota. And for those who don’t believe studies, The Discovery Channel explored this phenomenon on MythBusters and confirmed it.
The myth of multitasking leads us all to believe we can do more than one thing at a time. The truth is human brain cannot perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, science shows the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. Our brains can juggle tasks rapidly, which leads us to mistakenly believe we are doing two tasks at the same time. Multitasking by driving and talking on the phone is distractive driving and it has become a serious public health threat requiring all drivers to reevaluate their driving habits.
Recently, students here in Rice County have taken the “It can wait” pledged to not text and drive. This is a great start and I hope we can all pledge not to text and drive-it’s the law after all. Beyond not texting we need to also pledge to our fellow travels not to be distracted by cell phones, in-car conversations, dining while driving, shaving or applying make-up while driving and a host of other habits which distract us from giving our full attention to driving our vehicle safely.
Everyone has a choice when driving and those choices can tragically impact you, your family, or someone else’s family forever. Parents need to set a good example and enforce Minnesota’s gradated driver’s license restrictions including no cell phone use while driving. Thousands of lives can be saved each year by making the right choices. Help make Rice County safer by staying off the phone while you are on the road, recognizing that hands-free devices offer no safety benefit, understanding the dangers of cognitive distraction, and always buckle up.