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Drivers: Don't let distractions cause a crash

Cellphones and other distractions in vehicles can quickly lead to accidents. Almost one in every four drivers who was involved in a crash was using a mobile phone within one minute before the crash happens. Did you know that around 3,477 traffic deaths were caused by distracted driving in 2015 alone? Imagine what paying attention could do to reduce the number of deaths each year.

    Types of distractions

    There are three types of distractions that can affect drivers. They include:

    • Manual tasks
    • Visual tasks
    • Cognitive tasks

    Each one of these may occur on its own or simultaneously with one or both of the others. As an example, a manual task might be reaching for the radio. A visual task would be looking over to check the station number. A cognitive task would be listening to the music to see if it's the right song.

    While these might seem like innocuous actions, the reality is that taking your mind off the road for even a second is enough time for a crash to take place. As an example of some of the things that might distract you on the road, consider these common behaviors:

    • Texting
    • Talking on a cellphone
    • Taking selfies
    • Changing a radio station
    • Using a GPS system
    • Reading
    • Eating
    • Drinking
    • Looking at a crash outside the vehicle (or another outside visual distraction)

    Each of these common behaviors can involve multiple distractions at once, making a driver completely unaware of where their vehicle is traveling and what's happening in front of them. In just seconds, it's possible to get involved in a rear-end collision or to speed through a stop sign.

    It's normal for drivers to get distracted, and when they do, it's usually by more than one serious distraction. For example, if you text, you're being distracted in three ways. You're manually entering text. You're visually looking at the phone. You're also cognitively distracted while reading what you've been sent or are sending.

    What can you do to avoid distractions behind the wheel?

    • Send texts, finish conversations, or set music or GPS directions before driving. Don't try to finish something while you're merging onto the highway. Give it your full attention beforehand.
    • Put your phone on silent or place it in the glove compartment, a bag or another area out of your reach so that you can't instinctively grab it. Some people cannot ignore the ding or red symbol of a notification, so it's important to stop yourself from noticing it or being able to react to it immediately.
    • If you would like to download an app that silences messages and alerts while you are driving, visit www.itcanwait.com/apps-and-tools.
    • If you must check your phone or take that call, make sure you carefully and safely exit the highway or leave a busy road. Once fully pulled over, conduct your business and only get back on the road when you're done.
    • If you plan to eat while driving, take the time to pull over and stop in a parking lot. The few minutes it takes you to eat your food won't delay you for long, and you will be much safer parked than if you were traveling. 
    • If you have a passenger, make sure they can take calls, reply to messages or man the GPS and maps so you don't have to. And be willing as a passenger to do the same for someone else when they're driving.

    Are hands-free devices safe?

    Many drivers are attempting to combat the hazards of distracted driving by using hands-free devices on their phones or vehicles. A recent study, however, by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah reported that even voice-activated technology can serve as a significant distraction to drivers.

    View video: How AAA Studied Cognitive Distraction

    The study analyzed driver responses using 10 in-vehicle information systems and 3 separate smart phone assistants. While the devices proved distracting while driving, they also distracted drivers for up to 27 seconds after using them. This is news for drivers who insist that they only use devices during "safe" times, such as when stopped at red lights. They may actually continue to be distracted as they proceed into traffic.

    Additionally, this study found that practice with devices did not increase the proficiency of driving while distracted. If a task was easy to begin with, it remained easy after a week, and the difficult technology tasks still remained difficult to accomplish while driving.

    Teens are especially at risk

    For teens, aged 15-19, car accidents are the leading cause of death and they have the highest potential for driving while distracted. Each year 2,500 teenagers are killed and more than 130,000 are injured. Illinois residents might find it surprising that an Oregon State University study found that some teenagers do homework, change clothes and switch shoes while driving.

    The study reported that 27 percent of the teens interviewed admitted to multitasking while behind the wheel. Some teens even admitted to changing contact lenses or putting on makeup while driving. The study indicated that texting and driving campaigns appeared to be working as fewer students reported this behavior, but there are other dangers of which teens are not aware. A representative of the study said that adjusting a GPS or changing radio stations can be just as dangerous as texting and driving.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is using their 5 to Drive campaign to educate teens and parents on the biggest dangers facing teen drivers: texting, speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and failure to buckle up.

    5 To Drive

    1. No drinking and driving.
    2. Buckle that seat belt.
    3. No texting or using social media and driving.
    4. No speeding.
    5. Limit passengers to one for teen drivers.

    What happens after a crash?

    After an accident occurs, authorities investigate what happened and try to determine the cause of the wreck. The police can find out if a driver used a cell phone by talking to witnesses or checking phone records. If distracted driving resulted in a collision that caused another person's injuries, then the negligent driver may be liable for the victim's costs relating to the accident. 

    How can I prove that the car crash I was involved in was caused by phone use?

    It is important that you make an effort to seek statements from as many witnesses as possible. It may also be possible to track the driver's phone use history.

    Will phone use always lead to the attribution of fault?

    If a person is using a phone when the car crash occurred, it is likely that at least some fault will be attributed to them. If you want to take action against a distracted driver, it is important to start the process in good time.

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