For this discussion, I will define distracted driving as driving without 100% of one’s attention on driving. This probably covers most of us, most of the time, behind the wheel. Yet most of us arrive where we’re going safely.
This is not to promote the idea that one does not need to pay full attention to driving all the time. You can listen to the radio at a low volume or have a conversation, without a lot of eye contact, with someone else in the car.
Just be aware of, shall we say, the level of your distracted driving. Be ready to bump it up to 100% in an instant.
* * * * *
Imagine, for a moment, racing bumper to bumper, without brake lights, on Daytona speedway at 320 kph (200 mph) with 20 other race cars. That would require your full attention to driving, with a laser focus.
Distracted driving in that situation would equal disaster, maybe even death.
Those drivers can drive at that speed and proximity to each other on a race track because of their skill level and focus on a common goal. They are winning the race.
Driving on the street is far extra hazardous because of the acceptable level of distractions. Not just on the part of other drivers, but passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians as well.
I drive 40 kph (25 mph), or less, through a school zone. Not just because it’s the law. I move slowly to give myself time to see what’s going on. There’s a whole other level of distraction involved here. Kids playing among themselves pay little attention to traffic, especially when chasing a ball onto the street.
It’s my responsibility to keep everyone safe. And I do.
Distracted driving can cause problems, or accidents, even when you are hardly moving, like pulling out a parking space on a hectic street. First off, your vehicle is not moving with the flow as you pull out.
Then there are bicycles, jay-walkers, and those other drivers targeting the spot you are vacating. And traffic. Are they letting you in or not?
No time for a coffee or phone call here!
* * * * *
The bottom line is that when one is driving a vehicle on the road, that is all one should be doing. A car can become a dangerous weapon if not handled with care and attention.
Remember, a vehicle is a few thousand pounds of steel and other ingredients that we are directing down a roadway at speeds of anywhere up to 100 kph (60mph), which is 27 meters (88 feet)/second.
How many seconds does that give you to practice distracted driving? I trust your answer was “none.” In this situation, practice does not make perfect.
Further on that. Let’s do a little math here. If two cars are approaching each other and each vehicle is traveling at 100 kph (60mph), then the distance between them decreases at 54 meters (176 feet)/second. That’s 200 kph (120mph)!
The risks involved here demand your full attention!
Examples of Distracted Driving
Alcohol and other drugs
If one is about to drive or is driving under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs, one is in a too distracted driving state.
That person should be prevented or immediately removed, from driving, by friends or, if need be, by police.
Even smoking cigarettes can cause unnecessary distractions, significantly if a lit cigarette is dropped on the floor or seat.
How about during the moment of lighting a smoke? How many feet did the vehicle move while I took a few puffs to get it going? What was I looking at during those few seconds, or 60 meters (200 feet)?
Is there a cap to how many times I can get away with this kind of distracted driving? What’s the price of getting caught?
It makes me thankful I’ve been a non-smoker for over 20 years.
Tired or drowsy
The other state that is extremely dangerous but is often still acceptable is one of drowsiness or sleepiness. If you are tired, you should stop and sleep.
I read of one experiment where several drivers lived at a racetrack for a week.
They first drove the track in a well-rested, sober condition. They went through several days of sleep deprivation and simultaneously drove the route, sometimes being woken up to drive.
After a few days to recover, the party started. Food and alcohol flowed, albeit according to a controlled schedule. Again, the drivers would be asked to drive the track at various times throughout the all-day party.
Judged both subjectively and objectively, the state that was rated as the most dangerous was ‘tired’ or ‘lack of sleep.’
It turned out that the drivers did not compensate for being tired as they did for being under the influence of alcohol. This made them more dangerous as they fell asleep behind the wheel.
In this case, they only hit pylons or went off the track.
Asleep, or unconscious (to driving), behind the wheel, could be called the ultimate level of distracted driving. Please don’t risk it.
If you’re tired, get off the road, stop somewhere, and get some sleep.
The driver’s seat is not a dining room table. We’ve all grabbed a bite behind the wheel, I’m sure. I think back on the times I’ve tried eating a sandwich or burger with far too many condiments, which drip or fall all over my lap, the seat, and so on.
Or the times I’ve spilled a HOT coffee on my leg while wearing shorts in the summertime. In which case, I would pull over and clean it up. Or I put the sandwich down on the other seat and look for a place to park and eat.
Neither distracted driving nor distracted eating is right for you.
Let’s sit down and eat. The food tastes better. It’s less hassle and much more fun.
If you are on the road ‘in the middle of nowhere,’ get off the road, spread a blanket, and have a picnic.
Emotional agitation or distress
One can also come to a state of distracted driving from within.
I recall the time when I was a witness to a traffic fatality. A cyclist hit a bus right in front of my taxi. I was left feeling empty, yet heavy and very disconnected from my usual self. The police would not let me drive for over 2 hours. They told me I was in shock and did not know it.
Eventually, when I was allowed to drive away, I realized that I was in no condition to drive (it happened at the start of my shift), so I drove the cab to the garage and informed the owner of why I was not driving that night. He understood.
Another form of emotional upset that could cause severe distracted driving is any traumatic event with close people. Anything from an injury, an intense argument, sickness, or death can alter one’s normal state of mind that all usual references are disconnected.
Remember that famous golfer who ran off the road right outside his house? I’m sure there was some emotional upset there.
This is a hazardous condition in which to drive. Do not let anyone you know drive under such emotionally distressed conditions.
Another emotional disturbance that deserves comment here is that one is referred to as ‘road rage.’ Though there is a wide range of upset that could be put under this topic, I only want to say this.
When one focuses on anger, upset, or rage at another person or object, the other elements in the immediate environment take a ‘back seat’ or become less important.
In this case, that would be the other traffic or other conditions that do not directly involve the emotional outburst object. This is a case where an intense focus causes distracted driving. The problem is that the focus is not on driving.
This leaves one extremely vulnerable. It could easily result in an accident, which would lead to even more upset.
Learn to ‘keep it cool.’
Everyone’s favorite: handheld devices
Many places, including my home province, have banned the use of handheld devices while driving. Sadly, it takes a law (like we don’t have enough already!) to change people’s ways.
It also doesn’t work as I see more and more people with phones again now that time has passed. Each of us has to learn it in our way, I guess.
Try this experiment. Drive-in an outside lane on a highway. With full attention and laser focus, keep your car 6 inches off that white or yellow line that indicates the side of the road. Drive this way a few minutes to get the rhythm of riding the outside of your lane.
Now pick up your phone and dial 36287. Eyes back to the road. Be honest on this next part. How much 36287 (focus) did you lose? Did you stay 6 inches from the line? Did you feel safe? Did you feel in control?
What percentage of your focus in the first part of the experiment did you lose?
You noticed the difference more emphatically in this instance because of where your focus was. It was on precision driving.
Usually, when using a phone, your attention goes to the person at the other end of the phone, and you don’t notice to the same degree how distracted your driving has become.
Until someone blows their horn right beside your window (that was me!).
If you are on the other end of the phone and hear the horn, tell them to call you back when they’re not driving. Then hang up!
Distractions inside the car
Before you start driving, set the AC and the radio. It would help if you also had all the regular stations you listen to pre-set on your radio. I have my jazz, traffic reports on the ‘ones’ after the hour, and my baseball games all at the touch of a button.
Listen to the radio at a volume that allows you to hear traffic noises like horns and emergency vehicles.
As far as riders in your car set the rules. It is your car, and you are driving. No yelling and no hitting the driver. Seat belts on! No alcohol or smoking in the car.
This indicates that you take accountability for your and your riders’ safety. You’ve also eliminated many potential causes of distracted driving.
If you find yourself with passengers who will not tone it down and respect your wishes, do as I did in my cab. Eject them. Could you drop them off at a bus stop? Maybe next time they will listen.
It may be uncomfortable to do that to people you consider ‘friends.’ remember that real friends would respect your wishes and care about everyone’s safety.
Always make sure you know where you are going—trying to figure out a route while driving is dangerous. If you get lost or sidetracked, pull off the road and stop while you figure it out.
Distractions outside the car
I find that things I observe outside the car tend to take on a certain rhythm in tune, say, with the timing of my scanning of mirrors and side views.
Distractions can range from those new high tech bright neon signs, a well-dressed man or woman striding confidently down the street, to a building with a striking architectural design.
Outside distractions can also include construction zones, traffic lights not working, accidents, or blockades by demonstrations, parades, or police activity.
Also, watch for drivers stopping for no apparent reason (rubberneckers?), changing lanes without signaling, or driving unreasonably slow.
Regularly scan, so you know what is going on around you. Be willing to take full responsibility for your safety and those around you. That will help you stay focused and safe.