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Distracted Driving: A Case of Misplaced Priorities

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and is therefore the perfect time to review safe driving habits. Each time we get behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle, our responsibility towards our passengers, pedestrians, and fellow drivers expands. Just so, the safety of our own lives and property are largely affected by others’ choices.

For those of us who have experienced an auto accident, a healthy respect for the power of a car or truck can be difficult to forget. The trauma of such an event can affect which vehicles we buy, what time of day we drive, and how critically we feel toward other motorists. And yet, distracted driving creeps into the habits of the experienced and inexperienced alike.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) defines distracted driving as, “when a driver undertakes any activity that diverts attention away from driving.” While we might most often think of this as texting and driving, the DOT’s distinction is critical: any activity. The DOT expands on this with the following list:

  • Using cell phones (or any hand-held device)
  • Talking with passengers
  • Eating or drinking
  • Reading
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Using GPS

By this reckoning, the DOT records over 3,500 fatalities due to distracted driving in 2021.

Distracted Driving Has Fast Consequences

Unfortunately, there is very little margin for error when you’re traveling at high speeds. Studies have shown that even sneezing while driving can be dangerous. This lapse in safety only becomes compounded when coupled with negligence.

One tragic story about texting and driving illustrates this clearly:

In Minnesota, while driving a semi at 63 MPH, a driver looked down at their phone. Eight seconds later, they had illegally traveled through an intersection, plowing over a stopped car at the red light. The driver of the second vehicle died on impact.

The state of Minnesota made a video documenting the incident. Here are few of its most important takeaways:

  • Despite being a professional, the driver didn’t realize how far he would travel while texting and driving.
  • Eight seconds is longer than one expects — especially counted out.
  • There are numerous people affected by a tragedy, including the families of both parties and the person with whom the driver was texting.
  • Just like a DUI, these types of accidents can lead to jail time.

“We see it too often…where someone is killed on our roads for no reason other than someone else’s poor choice to make that phone more important than driving,” said a representative for the Minnesota State Patrol. “We shouldn’t need a law to tell us to pay attention while driving. We should just be paying attention while driving because we know it’s the right thing to do.”

The Effect of Texting and Driving, and Other Distractions

As mentioned above, it’s not just texting and driving that constitutes distracted driving, but any activity that takes our mind away from the task at hand. As a company specializing in supply chain optimization with a rich history of transportation, Savage takes safety on the road extremely seriously.

One of the reasons driving with distractions is so serious is because it can make other mistakes we might make behind the wheel all the more serious. Consider the following list of traffic situations, and how they might be made worse by having your focus pulled elsewhere:

  • Approaching a yellow light at an intersection
  • Rolling through a stop sign on a right-hand turn
  • Merging into a lane
  • Following closely behind another vehicle

Each of these events can put another person in danger if the driver was to take their eyes off of the road, especially for an extended period of time. It is sobering to consider that of all the motorized vehicle fatalities in 2021, over 1,200 occurred while the driver was on the clock. That figure is more than one-third of the total number of distracted driving fatalities, making vehicular incidents the leading cause of death in the workplace.

As the unfortunate semi driver says in the PSA video, “It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you wear a suit and tie; it doesn’t matter if you wear jeans and boots; it doesn’t matter what you do for a job, this can happen to anybody. All it takes is one poor decision.”

A DUI by Any Other Name

In terms of modern-day problems on the road, distracted driving is one of the most widespread and costly. After all, it’s why we have an entire month dedicated to learning about it and improving. But how does texting and driving, or any other distractions, stack up against a DUI?

One study performed by the University of Utah in 2006, and cited by injury lawyers, showed that driving with one eye on technology (such as a phone or a radio) impaired the driver to a greater degree than driving while intoxicated, or DUI. Their findings were that distracted drivers deal with:

  • Delayed reaction times
  • Drastic changes to speed and following distance
  • Overcompensation to external stimuli

If it wasn’t clear that we were discussing distracted driving, one could look at this list and assume we were talking about a DUI. The truth is that we are; we are talking about driving under the influence of distractions.

How Is my Driving?

Take time to evaluate how you are driving. Are you concerned with the goings-on of the road, or have you allowed yourself to misplace your priorities? When it comes to texting and driving, or any other kind of distractions, choose to make a positive difference. If not, you may find yourself unintentionally making a negative one.