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Distracted Driving—A National Epidemic?

By Andrew R. Bronsnick

Safety Officials Point To Distractions As Major Cause Of Motor Vehicle Accidents


It’s all just part and parcel to our ever-increasingly busy lives. We try to cram as much as we can into every minute. We’ve sold ourselves on the idea that we can effectively multi-task—we listen to books on tape while we exercise, we watch the evening news while making dinner, and we engage in a whole host of activities while we’re driving, including texting, phoning, surfing, eating, drinking and even applying makeup. But here’s what science is increasingly demonstrating—our brains are not designed to multitask. According to most studies, about 2% of people actually have the ability to effectively pay attention to more than one task at a time. In fact, some studies even suggest that multitasking can lead to brain damage.

Nonetheless, more and more motorists are subject to distraction behind the wheel. According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 1.5 million accidents every year involve distractions caused by a mobile device. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that, in 2017, 14% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents in the United States involved distracted driving.

The NHTSA defines “distracted driving” as taking one or more of three forms:

  • Visual distractions, where your eyes are diverted from the road
  • Manual distractions, where your hands are taken off the wheel for any reason
  • Cognitive distractions, where your mental focus shifts from driving to some other task

The NHTSA also says that waiting to send or read a text, surf the internet or change a song until you’ve come to a stop sign or red light is not a good strategy, either. Some of the worst accidents happen in just those situations, where a driver fails to see a pedestrian or pulls forward based not on direct observation, but a peripheral movement.

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