NMA E-Newsletter #135: Managing Distractions

Once you sit behind the steering wheel of a car, the competition for your attention begins in earnest. This has been the case since the advent of motorized transportation.

Modern technology has expanded the field of play, as has an overabundance of roadway signage, but drivers have typically learned to adapt to distractions.

For the most part, drivers have been successful. A new study published by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) notes that when driving conditions get riskier, motorists pay greater attention to driving and simultaneously filter out more distractions.

Obviously there is a limit to how many and what kind of distractions can be balanced properly, and that tolerance level varies by individual driver.

The GHSA report estimates that 15 to 30 percent of all crashes are caused by at least one driver being distracted. This estimate may be low considering that investigating officers rarely know what each driver was doing immediately prior to the crash.

And, of course, speed is usually listed as the default cause when no other reason is immediately obvious.

The GHSA study, which interestingly was financed by State Farm Insurance, makes some interesting points:

  • Drivers are distracted one-quarter to one-half of the time.
  • States should hold off enacting more bans on handheld devices until the effectiveness of such laws are more fully evaluated. (The report found no evidence that cell phone or texting bans have reduced the number of crashes.)
  • Existing distracted driving laws should be enforced.

This is not to suggest that texting while driving is a safe activity. But it is a wise caution to stop passing behavior-specific distracted driving laws. That only serves to put police in the difficult position of pre-judging which drivers are more at risk.

Rather, the GHSA recommends expanding educational programs on the dangers of inattentive driving at the federal, state, and even employer levels. The Association also suggests that the automobile industry “continue to develop, test, and implement measures to . . . warn drivers of risky situations.”

These recommendations mirror what the NMA has been advocating for many years.

Arming motorists with the knowledge and tools to recognize dangerous forms of distracted driving: That would be a significant step in the right direction.

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