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Examiner
  • Top 5: Tips for not being a distracted driver

  • The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports that there were 786 traffic fatalities in Missouri in 2011, a number that’s been in steady decline for years.

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  • The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports that there were 786 traffic fatalities in Missouri in 2011, a number that’s been in steady decline for years.
    But last year that number bumped up to 825, and safety officials worry that might be because of rising number of distractions – mostly electronic – at drivers’ fingertips.
    The Highway Patrol says inattention is a leading cause of traffic accidents. It’s not just that your eyes and hands aren’t where they should be – eyes on the road, hands on the wheel – it’s that your attention is divided or diverted, greatly increasing the time it takes to react to conditions.
    “Texting, according to the National Safety Council, is equivalent to being a drunk driver,” said Kathy Zents, executive director of the Safety and Health Council of Western Missouri and Kansas.
    Five ideas for safe driving:
    1. A driver who picks up the cell phone is four times more likely to get into a wreck. In only a few places is driving and phoning illegal, although in Missouri texting and driving is illegal for those 21 and younger. Motor-vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults.
    The National Safety Council advises employers to think about their liability for on-the-job wrecks and reminds drivers that authorities can and will check phone records to see if the phone was in use at the time of an accident.
    2. Learn the basics. Most schools stopped offering drivers ed years ago. Parents who can find the class for their children often have to pay hundreds of dollars.
    The National Safety Council has a two-hour, online program, “Alive at 25.”
    “It gives them some of the basics that they’re not getting anywhere else,” Zents said.
    The program involves parents; helps teens understand the need to learn how to drive defensively; discusses seatbelts, speeding, alcohol and drugs; and offers an example of a parent/teen driver contract.
    Go to www.nsc.org/products_training/
    3. Get ready before you go, safety officials advise. Check the fuel and oil levels, make sure your brake lights and other lights are working, and adjust the mirrors and other items before you leave the driveway. Think about the best route, and avoid bad intersections.
    Once under way, stay focused. Be aware of – and then minimize or eliminate – the distractions: texting, talking on the phone, watching a GPS, adjusting the radio or iPod, eating and drinking, looking at children or other passengers.
    In addition to the well-known distraction of talking on the phone and the newer, more dangerous distraction of texting while driving, safety experts now have a new worry: webbing while driving, thanks to the spread of web-enabled phones. One study suggests 48 percent of drivers aged 18 to 39 check their email while driving. Newer cars are coming with more web-enabled functions – some of them hands-free, which helps some – but those are still added distractions.
    Page 2 of 2 - 4. Adjust to the conditions. The old two-second rule – put the distance your vehicle is traveling every two seconds between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you – is now the three-second rule, the National Safety Council advises, and that’s assuming a vehicle in good working order on a good road on a good day. If it’s rainy, add a second. If your vehicle isn’t in tip-top shape, add another second.
    5. Understand human limitations. Remember that stopping distance equals braking distance plus reaction distance. Put another way, even at 35 mph, if something pops up to force you to tap the brakes, you’ll go another 32 feet before your foot even gets to the pedal – assuming you’re not distracted in the first place.
    Tom Maier, a risk control adviser with IMA Inc. of Overland Park, puts it simply: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel.”
     
     
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