By Lisa Smith, Kanetix
Cars are meant for driving, and modern vehicles are made with all kinds of safety features that are designed to keep you and your passengers safe. That said, no matter how safe a vehicle is, there are no guarantees. Collisions occur every day here in Canada, in the United States, and anywhere where people drive cars. Although there are many dangers that drivers must be cautious about, one of the most dangerous threats to your safety involves you, the driver. If a driver gets behind the wheel of a car and is distracted, the chance of getting in an accident rises significantly. There are three types of distractions that you and any driver are susceptible to: cognitive distraction, visual distraction, and manual distraction. A manual distraction is one that takes your hands off of the steering wheel for any length of time, a visual distraction is one that causes you to take your eyes off of the road, and a cognitive distraction takes your mind and attention off of the road and the act of driving. Any of these distractions, either separate or together, can have devastating consequences. In addition to distraction, your driving behaviour can also cause a dangerous situation. To improve how safe you are as a driver, it is important that you are aware of some of the most common dangerous behaviors and distractions, some of which you may unconsciously be guilty of doing.
Using a Cell Phone While Driving
The phone rings while you’re driving, and your first inclination is to pick it up. While this might be a knee-jerk response, it isn’t a response that you should actually follow through on. Talking on the phone while driving is one of the top ways that people get distracted while they are driving. When you physically answer your cell phone, you are taking your eyes off of the road to locate the phone and removing a hand from the wheel to answer it. The actual discussion is a form of cognitive distraction that takes your concentration off of the road and puts it on the conversation that is being held. Even hands-free phones are a no-no when driving, as they are cognitive distractions. If you are guilty of chatting on the phone while driving, first, know that there are laws regarding driving and talking on your cell phone in Canada. Second, get in the habit of turning off your cell phone before getting in your vehicle to drive. Place it in a location that is out of your reach to avoid temptation. Safety comes first, and phone calls can be made at any time (when you are not operating a car, that is).
Text-Messaging While Driving
Texting is a fairly new concept when it comes to communication, but society has taken to it with zeal. A large amount of people text message as much as, or even more than, they actually talk on the phone. It’s fast and convenient, and it’s very dangerous when driving a car or other vehicle. Texting encompasses all three forms of distraction and leaves drivers vulnerable to accidents and other consequences of looking away from the road, no matter how briefly. As a driver, you must take your hand or hands from the steering wheel to respond to a text. While reading or responding, your mind goes to the subject of the text and then how to respond. By responding to a text, you become a menace on the road, someone who can injure or kill any pedestrian, driver, or passenger who happens to be on the road with you. As stated above, keep your phone off and tucked away to avoid this lethal distraction.
Driving too closely to a car is risky and definitely something that you should avoid doing. It won’t get you where you need to go any quicker than driving at a safe distance, but it will raise your chances of rear-ending the car ahead of you should the driver need to stop suddenly. To avoid a collision with the back of a vehicle, maintain at least two seconds worth of space between you and the car ahead of you during the daylight hours. You’ll want to adjust this and make it a little longer in poor weather conditions and at night. Even the type of car that you drive dictates how close you should or should not follow a vehicle. Larger vehicles, such as SUVs, take longer to stop than smaller ones as well.
Eating While Driving
It may seem like a smart idea when time is at a premium, but eating while driving is a dangerous practice. It is a manual, visual, and even cognitive distraction. When a person picks up their food, it requires using at least one hand to lift it, potentially unwrap it, and bring it to the mouth. Naturally, you’ll look down at what you’ve picked up to ensure that you’ve got the right thing. If some of the food falls, you may even try to catch it or wipe at it. At that point, concern over spilled food then becomes your focus, as opposed to what is going on around you on the road. Eating also presents a choking risk, particularly when eating certain foods quickly due to time constraints. If that isn’t enough to convince you, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that eating increases your risk of being involved in accident by an amazing 80 percent. Eating isn’t the only problem when it comes to what goes into your mouth while behind the wheel of a car. Drinking is also problematic, as it can take your eyes off of the road and has a risk of spilling, which can take your attention away as well. Drinks such as hot coffee increase the risk as well for obvious reasons.
Grooming While Driving
No matter how late you are running to an appointment, your job, or even a date, don’t start or finish your grooming while driving. Shaving, applying makeup, or even combing your hair will take your hands, eyes, and mind off of the very important task of driving your car and watching the traffic around you. Wake up or prepare early enough to ensure that you have plenty of time to get these tasks done before you ever start up the car.
Tending To Children
When driving, it can be hard not to take one’s eyes off of the road and focus on what the children are doing, particularly when there is an issue such as a crying infant or child, or bickering amongst siblings. As difficult as this may be, parents should pull over if their baby or child needs attention and should never attempt to reach behind them while operating a car or turn to face a child even for a second. When pulling over due to an upset child, do so calmly and only when it is safe to do so.
Driving While Sleepy
Even the best driver who follows all of the rules can fall victim to driving while drowsy. Drivers who are not sleeping properly or have had long, tiring days should refrain from getting behind the wheel until they have caught up on their sleep. A person who is sleepy can begin to doze or nod off even without realizing that they are doing this. When that happens, not only are they not seeing the road, but they may press harder on the gas, remove their foot entirely from the gas, or veer into a dangerous situation such as into another lane, off the road, or into the back of the car ahead of them. Drinking coffee (which is a distracting no-no itself), cracking a window, or listening to loud music are false solutions that people often mistakenly believe to be effective. Unfortunately, they won’t do a thing for keeping you awake. Sleep first, then drive when fully rested.