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Examiner
  • Lori A. Boyajian-O’Neill:

  • I asked a teen recently if she would consider herself a distracted driver. Without any hesitation she shook her head, "Oh, yes!" Her honesty surprised me. We were discussing her concussion sustained when she was driving while texting and hit a tree.

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  • I asked a teen recently if she would consider herself a distracted driver. Without any hesitation she shook her head, "Oh, yes!" Her honesty surprised me. We were discussing her concussion sustained when she was driving while texting and hit a tree. April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month. Distracted driving and public health, what do you know? T or F?
    1. 18 percent of all injury crashes involve a distracted driver.
    2. Texting increases crash risk 10 fold.
    3. Hands-free devices decrease crash risk.
    There are many forms of distracted driving including personal grooming, tending to pets, mediating arguments among kids and use of mobile devices. These involve three aspects of distraction: manual (taking one’s hands off of the wheel), visual (taking one’s eyes off of the road and cognitive (taking one’s brain off of the task of driving). About one in five motor vehicle accidents involve a distracted driver. In 2011 3,331 were killed and over 387,000 injured as a result of distracted drivers.
    The relationship between cell phone use and crashes is under scrutiny. In 1993 about 10 percent of the population had access to a cellular telephone. Today it is closer to 95 percent. It is estimated that at any given time almost 800,000 drivers are using a cell phone. Drivers who are talking on the telephone are 4 times more likely to crash than those who are not. Hands-free devices are not safer. The area of the brain responsible for processing visual information, critical for driving, gets overloaded with information and cannot function efficiently. Before we know it the car crosses the center line, or hits a tree.
    Highway safety experts generally point out that our perception of our individual driving skills is not borne out of performance, but hubris. So it is not surprising that in a recent study 63 percent of respondents acknowledged that driving while using a cell phone is a threat to their health and safety but 70 percent of them reported that they had used a cell phone in the prior 30 days. "I know what I’m doing. Those other drivers don’t." Texting is especially risky because it involves manual, visual and cognitive distraction.
    Those under age 20 are the greatest offenders. Having grown up with the technology, they are very comfortable with the devices, believe they are good drivers and don’t hesitate to mix the two. Talking and texting seem natural to them. What most don’t understand is that their risk of a crash increases 23 fold when they drive and text. At 55 mph a car can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to type the average text, 4.6 seconds. That is 300 yards without a focused driver.
    There is technology which disengages cell phones when vehicles move. This is becoming more popular with parents. Teens will balk at this technology. They can add it to the long list of things they already hate like curfew and homework. And walking. Distraction.gov has great information and a pledge for teen drivers.
    Page 2 of 2 - Some states and municipalities have implemented laws making it illegal to operate a vehicle while using a cellular phone. Some laws allow police officers to check cell phone records to determine if drivers have been texting or talking in the time immediately prior or during a motor vehicle accident. "I didn’t." "I never." Busted.
    True story. I just can’t make this up. The other day, while riding a horse, a local equestrian was texting. The horse got spooked and ran into the side of a barn before the rider could react. She is recovering, as is the horse. Thank goodness what she was driving didn’t have an engine.
    Answers: 1. T ; 2. F ; 3. F.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.
     

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