Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stay alert - driver distractions can be dangerous

by Scott Marshall - Driver Magazine, July 12, 2009

We often think that winter is the worst time to drive in, but the truth is that summer is more dangerous. Most crashes occur during the summer months, according to Transport Canada.

We tend to be in our vehicles more often when the weather is nicer, and we take more vacations during the warmer weather.

One of the problems is that we often get distracted while driving. We must smarten up and be more alert on the road. Cell phones are one of the major distractions these days, and the Ontario government has introduced legislation that would prohibit drivers from using a hand-held electronic device while driving. This would include communication and entertainment devices such as cell phones and MP3s. More than 50 countries already have similar laws in place. Look for this new law to come into effect as early as this fall.

There are some good reasons for the law. For example, if you’re having a conversation with someone on the phone and a problem is developing outside the vehicle, you’ll stop your conversation and try to deal with the situation as best you can. The problem is that the person on the other end of the phone keeps talking, adding to your distraction. It’s not the same as having a conversation with someone inside the vehicle. Your passenger would likely see the problem you had to deal with and stop talking.

My advice is to ignore your phone until you’ve reached your destination. Leave the phone on ‘silent’ so you won’t be distracted by the ringing. Driving takes full concentration, especially if you’re dealing with other drivers who aren’t making logical decisions of their own. When I teach a class of novice drivers at Young Drivers of Canada, I do a test to help them understand distractions.

Since most of my students have a cell phone, I ask them to turn it on and place it on the desk in front of them. On my command, I ask them to tell me what time it is from their cell phone while I keep track of their response time. The quickest response is 2.5 seconds. That can be a problem, considering the minimum safe distance to follow a vehicle in the city is two seconds. If the driver in front of you slams on the brakes just as you look down at your cell phone, you’ll crash into the vehicle in front before you get a chance to look up.

Now, let’s deal with the issue of drinking in the car. I’m not referring to alcohol. I’m referring to things like coffee and water. When you drink a beverage while the vehicle is in motion you take your hand off the wheel and possibly your eyes off the scene for a moment. Pick your moment to have a drink. While you’re stopped is the best time to sip a drink. The other time, perhaps, is when there are no other drivers or pedestrians near you. This reduces the chance of having to swerve around a problem. You’ll need two hands on the wheel for that.

It’s the same thing for eating while driving. I’ve seen many people eat a hamburger, sub and even a big pizza slice while driving. If they spilled the food on themselves, where would they be looking? What if they looked down just as the driver ahead of them slammed on the brakes? There wouldn’t be enough reaction time to safely stop the vehicle.

And how many times do we leave our garbage in the vehicle instead of disposing of it in the trash? That coffee cup under the seat, or the food wrappers on the floor, can distract you, especially on a windy day if you have the windows down. The garbage can blow around, forcing you to take your eyes off the road for a moment. Do yourself a favour and put the wrappers in the trash.

Another distraction can be passengers themselves. They make us laugh, look at things outside the vehicle and get into heated discussions with us. But our attention needs to be on the road and the traffic.

As the driver, you should establish vehicle rules that will allow you to concentrate on the road. Give your children things to do in the vehicle while you drive. Put music on the radio that everybody will enjoy. This may help them leave you alone while you’re driving.

You must stay focused on where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. So, put away the distractions and, just maybe, you can drive a little more safely this summer.

Scott Marshall is director of training for Young Drivers of Canada.

~~Editors Note~~
I would like to thank Scott for allowing me to re-post this article from The Driver Magazine. I found it through his Twitter post under the id name @safedriver . Great information!!

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