Im going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: When I drive I talk on my cell phone and play big band music on my CD player. From time to time, I drink a soft drink or even a hot cup of coffee while behind the wheel. Doing these things makes me a prime candidate for an accident, but I believe I am capable of multitasking without causing one. There are others who disagree with my assessment of the situation and say that I had better shape up before something unfortunate happens.
Recently I read a story in USA Today from earlier in the year about the findings of some recent research that was commissioned by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., which made me rethink my habits.
The survey of 1,200 drivers revealed that the top 10 things respondents admitted to doing behind the wheel (besides driving) are adjusting their audio system, 82%; drinking a beverage, 80%; talking on a cell phone, 73%; eating a snack, 68%; eating a full meal, 41%; daydreaming, 31%; driving without shoes, 28%; experiencing road rage, 23%; listening to books on tape/CD, 21%; and smoking, 21%.
Despite a vast majority of respondents engaging in other activities than driving, 59% of respondents say they dont consider themselves distracted drivers. Other data contradict that claim. Such distractions are the primary cause or a contributor to 25% to 50% of auto accidents, Peter Kissinger, the president and chief executive officer of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, told USA Today.
Here are some other statistics to add to those already mentioned. Nineteen percent have sent text messages while driving. Twelve percent admitted to putting on or adjusting makeup. Five percent said they read books, magazines or newspapers while driving. In the research study, there were even generational data that showed some major differences. For instance, when asked what they would most like to have in their car, Gen Yers and Gen Xers most often said the Internet or e-mail (33% and 32%, respectively). But some baby boomers went even further, saying they would love a refrigerator (36%) in their car.
Bill Windsor, Nationwides associate vice president for safety, warns in the article that If youre going 65 miles per hour, and youre distracted even three seconds, thats equivalent to driving a whole football field. The Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute joined together in a study showing that a driver who looks away from the road for two or more seconds is almost twice as likely as an attentive driver to be involved in a crash or near crash.
Windsor claims that as more technology is made available in cars, the prevalence of distracted driving will probably get worse, and Kissinger suggests that mental distractions are even more serious than visual ones. He states in the article, If you focus on something hard enough, you can actually get in the zone, and literally things can happen in front of you and you wont notice them. Windsor makes his point with this admonition: The bottom line is if it can be done in the kitchen, the bathroom, the office or the bedroom, it shouldnt be done in the car.
It makes you feel guilty doesnt it? I know to one extent or another we are guilty of the things that have been cited as distractions. However, maybe what Leon James has to say about all of this may assuage your guilt. James is a professor of traffic psychology at the University of Hawaii and he believes that multitasking itself is not necessarily distracting, and drivers need to train themselves to multitask in their cars. Taxi drivers talk on the phone all the time. Cops talk on the radio and look at a screen while theyre patrolling. They do it just fine, he says in the story. This proves to you that if the right training is there, you can do this without distraction.
Buckle up, at least.