April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month, drawing attention to the growing complications of people driving while distracted. While distracted driving can be considered anything that makes a driver take their hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road, or their minds off of driving, the recent surge of smartphone usage has done a lot to add to the distractions a driver might face. Although certain distractions may cause a person to be distracted visually, manually, or cognitively, using a smartphone while driving involves all three.
Drivers are often distracted by a number of things, including the kids in the backseat or other passengers, adjusting the radio, eating, applying makeup, or paying attention to the passing scenery, however, smartphone usage contributes to fatal accidents involving 15 to 19-year-olds 21 percent of the time. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 2015, distracted driving resulted in 3,477 fatalities and 391,000 injuries. To fight this new danger, in 2013, Florida became the first of five states to enact a ban on texting. Now, 47 states, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia all have laws banning texting while driving.
Yet, Florida is one of the few states in which texting while driving is only a secondary offense. This means that in the state of Florida, a law enforcement officer cannot pull a driver over simply for texting while driving, but only when the activity is accompanied by another infraction, like speeding or reckless driving. However, that may be subject to change.
Earlier this year, the Florida House of Representatives voted 112-2 to make texting while driving a primary offense. The bill still needs to make it past the Senate and the governor, but if it passes, checking your phone while driving could come with much harsher penalties.
Ultimately, the greatest deterrence to distracted driving is for drivers to pay a fine. It is estimated that approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving during daylight hours. Fortunately, according to the National Highway Traffic Highway Association, from 2014 to 2015, drivers using handheld cell phones decreased from 4.3 percent to 3.8 percent.
Yet, to keep from being distracted while driving, there are a number of other measures a driver should consider to keep themselves and the other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians who share the roads safe.
- Only use your cell phone for emergencies. While using a headset or Bluetooth does allow for hands-free phone calls, to keep you focused on the road, it is much better to save phone calls for when you’re not behind the wheel. Although few people use the option, smartphones can even be turned off during the duration of your trip.
- Groom before you zoom. Be sure that you’re shaved, dressed, and have your makeup on before you get into the car.
- Enjoy the process of eating. Although drive-thru windows are plentiful and eating on the go may save time, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that people who eat while driving are 80 percent more likely to get into an accident and 65 percent more likely to have a near-miss. Sitting down for a meal is not only safer, it makes the meal more enjoyable.
- Let your passengers participate. If you have other people in the car, let them adjust the radio and follow the GPS map. If you’re using GPS directions without any passengers, be sure to have the audio turned up.
- Don’t try to multitask in the car. A lot of people have a lot of things they are trying to accomplish at the same time, but none of them is as important as keeping you safe. Whatever you feel that you have to do can wait until you arrive at your destination safe and sound.
These are just a few things to consider on how you may change your driving routine to keep you from being distracted. The best defense you have for keeping safe behind the wheel is controlling your own attention.