I am a distracted driver.
I am lunging after a lost pacifier stuck in the crease of a car seat. My “Go-Go-Gadget” arms are stretching for a sippy-cup rolling on the floorboard. I am blindly clicking the iPod after a request for the Tangled soundtrack. I am shushing a crying baby since I still can’t find that pacifier.
And, I still haven’t left my neighborhood.
Add a hot latte with a loose lid. Add data entry on a GPS. Add StoryCorps on NPR and (my) watering eyes. Add a quick check on the smartphone for an important pending email. Add a phone call.
These are conditions in which most of us - including myself - find ourselves while behind the wheel of a car. Most Americans are driving while distracted. And, in 2009, nearly a half a million people in the US were injured because of it.
But, at least I know that I’m a distracted driver, right?
Current reports indicate that 95% Americans deny being distracted behind the wheel despite only 2% of us can actually talk and drive without some change in our concentration.
I’m venturing a guess that I am not among the 2 percent.
But, more importantly, I am guessing that the person in the next lane who is jamming out to music with earbuds in her ears and eating a hamburger is also not among the 2 percent.
Knowing that Americans are distracted drivers is important, but actually changing driving habits as a result of this realization is much, much harder.
Recently, a friend brought to my attention a report on the ABC show 20/20 about epidemic of distracted drivers. Although the presentation is a bit dramatic, I think the information is important to view. It certainly started me thinking about my own driving habits, and has influenced a change.
The video features David Strayer from the University of Utah whose research focuses on how distracted driving specifically affects driving skills. His report indicates that driving while talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free device, is the mental equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08. That’s roughly equivalent to a 150 pound woman getting behind the wheel after 2 drinks within an hour, or the BAC at which it is illegal to drive in all 50 states.
And this level of impairment is when driving and talking alone. This leaves the crying babies, the radio station changes, and the lipstick adjustment out of the equation. DWT is beyond these statistics.
Dr. Strayer suggests our inability to fully concentrate while driving and talking on the phone is due to a phenomenon called inattentional blindness, or the inability to see something that is in our plain view. This phenomenon is most classically demonstrated by the “invisible gorilla test.” If you have never seen this video, talk a minute to take the test here.
In the 20/20 report, however, it was David Champion’s comment that most resonated with me. He stated, “If you have something [in the car] that you can play with, you are more likely to play with it.”
I have lots of distractions in my vehicle that I cannot control (e.g. 2 little kids.) And so, as a responsible parent and citizen, I need to eliminate as many distractions that are in my control. The smartphone has got to go.
Before I get behind the wheel, I am going to put my cell phone in the trunk.
No temptation, no choice.
I need to do this as an example for my kids, who are watching me drive. I need to do this for the nearly 5,500 individuals who have been killed by distracted drivers. I need to do this for my fellow driver’s safety, and my own.
I’m going to make a change.
What about you? Do you think you could “trunk” the cell phone for safety?
* DWT - Driving While Texting.