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Disturbing distractions

Often people think that distracted driving centers around smart phones and texting, but distracted driving also includes eating, talking to passengers, smoking, adjusting the radio or climate controls.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working to raise drivers awareness of distracted driving and its potential danger and ultimately reduce the number of accidents it causes. Distraction occurs when drivers aren't paying full attention to the vehicle they are driving and focus on some other activity. (Graphics by Amber Jordan)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

Distracted driving is something that we are continuously reminded of, yet many fail to understand how dangerous it is and exactly what constitutes distracted driving.

First, let’s take a look at what defines distracted driving.

Texting, right?

Texting is certainly considered one of the main causes of distracted driving, however, there are numerous other examples that we fail to take into consideration. Many of us are guilty of these distractions and might perform them on a daily basis without even realizing it.

Texting isn’t the only behavior that distracts us while driving. Distracted driving is essentially any task that’s performed while driving that diverts your attention from the act of … well, driving.

Each year automobile manufacturers continue to add more and more technology to automobiles. Not only do these techy gadgets compete for your business but they also aim to make driving safer. Unfortunately, the more technology manufacturers add to vehicles the more distracted we are from the physical act of driving. Features such as hands-free calling, voice activation, massive display monitors and front, rear and side sensors are intended to make vehicles safer.

However, until someone is experienced with these features they can be a major distraction either by taking your eyes off the road, impacting your concentration or both. I’ve had my own stories on distraction with the most recent being my truck’s display.

My 2019 truck came with what equates to a small television screen in the dash. There are so many features on the touch screen that I have yet to figure them all out. At times this can be a major distraction – to the point of having to turn off the monitor off in heavy traffic or at night.

Several years earlier I had an alarming experience with a rental vehicle when the group I was travelling with requested a full-size SUV. The first day I drove the 2015 vehicle another car approached and apparently it was traveling too close to our vehicle it caused my seat began to rumble violently. It startled me to the point of making a sudden steering adjustment in traffic which could’ve been bad for everyone. Features like these are designed to aid in safety but until you’re familiar with them they can be a major distraction.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,166 lives were claimed on America’s highways from distracted driving in 2017 alone.

“It’s those damn kids driving and talking or texting on their cell phones.”

Many of may have you might have uttered similar words at some point in time; I know I have on multiple occasions. While that demographic is guilty of distracted driving, it’s safe to say that all demographics of drivers are guilty of distractions behind the wheel. The percentages of the different age groups that were involved in fatal crashes in 2017 range from 23% (ages 15-19)  to 19% (ages 20-29) Those numbers don’t necessarily correlate to the worst offenders being those kids on their phones.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured each day in accidents that involve a distracted driver. When you send or read a text while traveling at 55 mph the estimated time your eyes are off the road is approximately five seconds. At that speed, and for even that short duration, you just covered the length of a football field…but on the highway and probably in the midst of other distracted drivers.

In today’s fast-paced world the days go by with the blink of an eye, weeks and months pass in a flash and years pass by so fast that sometimes it’s hard to comprehend. The search for those precious extra seconds or minutes can have a direct impact on our driving ability. While texting remains one of the most significant factors of distracted driving it is only one of a laundry list of things to take into consideration. Trying to save those extra seconds and down a cup of coffee on the way into work or eat breakfast or lunch while on the road can also contribute to those same poor driving habits. We all feel that there are just not enough hours in the day and we cut corners on a routine basis to save those few seconds while we’re behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, many of us consider ourselves to be experienced drivers and continue to take on more and more distractions when we drive. This false sense of skill only breeds complacency and before we know it we are trying to juggle the phone, program the GPS and manage the kids in the back seat. We are so accustomed to this that not only does it occur while driving it occurs while traveling at 70 plus mph on the highway. Many of us will continue to consider ourselves skilled drivers while multitasking as we speed down the road, changing lanes, and many times not only driving, but driving aggressively. Mixing aggressive driving and distracted driving can be as dangerous as mixing alcohol or fatigue and driving.

Clearly we have an issue with distracted driving on our highways; but what can we do to combat it?

Managing our time better is probably at the top of the list. Streamlining our daily tasks and better time management could considerably reduce the amount of time we spend behind the wheel while we are distracted. Better preparation prior to departing from any location is a simple step toward reducing distractions. When starting your vehicle consider setting your radio to your favorite station, podcast or other listening features prior to shifting into drive. If using navigation, set your navigation aid prior to putting the car in drive. Make sure the kids are buckled up and prepared for the ride before you leave the driveway.

Keep in mind that while you cannot control the distractions of other drivers you can control the distractions that influence your driving. Incorporating a few simple steps into your daily routine could give you those extra five seconds and prevent you from becoming a statistic of distracted driving. If a phone call or a text is truly that important pull off the road and take the call or read and respond to that text. Those few seconds of delay to stop and read that emoji-riddled abbreviated and acronym-filled text truly can save your life, the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your fellow drivers.