woman driving a car and looking at her smartphone and texting

Texting and Driving & Other Dangers of Distraction


Drinking and driving definitely don’t mix, but at least the numbers of people driving with a measurable blood alcohol level are on the decline, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 

That’s not the case with distracted driving, which is another serious problem that causes thousands of accidents and deaths each year. Due in part to Americans’ growing attachment to their mobile devices, the number of distracted driving incidents is on the rise.

According to NHTSA, distraction is responsible for 10 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes, with drivers 15 -19 years old, on U.S. roadways. The administration’s 2014 data showed that, across all age groups, distraction caused or was related to a total of 2,955 fatal crashes and 3,179 deaths. And Distraction.Gov, an information website created by the federal government, reports that another 431,000 people were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers that same year.

As an allied healthcare professional, you may have worked with patients who were recovering from injuries sustained in accidents involving distracted drivers. Or you may have been involved in one of those incidents yourself. 

[LEARN HOW you can help patients across the country as an allied health traveler.]

What is distracted driving? 

The U.S. Department of Transportation officials at Distraction.Gov define it this way: “Distraction occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off your primary task: driving safely.” They add that any non-driving activity you do while behind the wheel is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing. That includes having a conversation on a hands-free device or vehicle equipped with Bluetooth technology. 

There are three main types of distractions for drivers: 

•   Physical
•   Manual
•   Cognitive

When we hear the term “distracted driving,” many of us immediately think of texting and driving--and that’s for good reason. Texting and driving involves all three types of distractions; you’re looking at your device, taking at least one hand off the wheel to text and not keeping your attention fully focused on the road. But texting is not the only behavior we have to worry about as drivers.

“It’s not just about texting,” said Megan Keiser, RN, DNP, CNRN, an assistant professor in the department of nursing at the University of Michigan-Flint, who is currently conducting a research study on distracted driving attitudes and behaviors among undergraduate college students. “Texting is on the list, but it is not the entire list.”

Besides texting, what other behaviors constitute “distracted driving”? 

According to Distraction.Gov, these actions are often responsible for diverting a driver’s attention:

•   Using a cell phone or smartphone
•   Using a GPS or navigation system
•   Eating and drinking
•   Talking to passengers
•   Grooming
•   Reading
•   Using a map
•   Watching a video
•   Adjusting the radio or music player

How risky is distracted driving?

The potential danger may be higher than you think. According to Keiser's data:

•   Drivers who reach for a moving object are 9 times more likely to be involved in crash than average drivers;
•   Dialing a phone will increase the risk by 2.8 times;
•   Looking out at an external object can raise your risk by 3.7 times. 

Plus, distracted drivers can rack up large fines if a police officer notices their behavior. Tickets can run as high as $400 in some states for certain behaviors, like talking on a cellphone or texting while driving. 

What can you do to reduce the incidence of distracted driving? 

You can start with your own behavior. Analyze what you do behind the wheel. Are you reaching for your smartphone or running a comb through your hair? Are you searching for something in your bag or trying to keep things from sliding off the front seat? Once you identify the behaviors that increase your risk of having an accident, eliminate them. Give yourself more time to take care of tasks--such as grooming or returning phone calls--before you start your car. 

“You should be focused on your driving,” noted Keiser. 

When you’re riding in a car with someone else, offer to be the driver’s support network so he or she can stay focused on driving; you can manage the GPS, adjust the radio, answer the cellphone (or not), keep other passengers quiet, etc. In addition, you can also share prevention tips and resources with your friends, family and patients.  

TAKE THE PLEDGE to end distracted driving.


Where to learn more
Distraction.Gov – Facts and Statistics on Distracted Driving
EDD: End Distracted Driving Campaign
Distracted Driving – CDC: Injury Prevention & Control

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