Back To School: It is Time for the Distracted Driving Talk

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August 8, 2016 (San Diego) It is time to go back to school. For many parents this is the first year that their teens are also going to get behind the wheel. There are many reasons to be anxious when our young ones take the car for the first time. Teens tend to have more accidents behind the wheel than adults, partly because they are far less experienced. They are also less mature and tend to take more risks than more experienced adults do. So it is time for parents to do two things. If you drive and for example, use the phone pay attention, because you will also have to change your behavior behind that wheel as well. After all, we model behavior that young drivers will imitate.

Second you and I need to judge less, but have that talk. Also make sure young people do not ride with other young people who drive while distracted.

First let us define distracted driving. It is anything that takes your eyes off the road. Yes, it is that simple. According to End Distracted Driving there are three types of distraction, defined by them as follows:

Manual distractions are those where you move your hands away from the task of controlling the vehicle. Reaching for a soda in the drink carrier is an example of a manual distraction.

Visual distractions are those where you focus your eyes away from the road. You drop your soda, and when it spills all over the floor of the car, you look down at your ruined shoes and stained slacks: that’s a visual distraction.

A cognitive distraction is when you’re mind wanders away from the task of driving. You start to consider whether you can afford to replace the clothing you just ruined, and what stores have bargains this week, and you’re no longer paying attention to the essential job of driving. Bingo: cognitive distraction.

Using a cell phone for making a call or texting is both a manual and a cognitive distraction. Some drivers believe that using the cell phone while behind the wheel is safe, especially when you use a hands free device. It is not the case. There is plenty of research to support this. The Triple AAA Foundationn has done quite a bit of those studies, and they have found that distracted driving is a problem. It happens when we eat, drink coffee, adjust the radio or using that cell phone. It can also happen when you adjust that GPS device when moving.

When it comes to hands free devices for your cell that research has found that:

“About two-thirds of drivers who use cell phones while driving believe that it is safer to talk on a hands-free cell phone than on a hand-held cell phone; however, the overwhelming majority of available evidence suggests that it is not. “

Back to cell phones, I am a former paramedic, and when cell phone use started to become more common back in the late 1980s early 1990s, we started to notice that crashes involving phone use and crashes involving alcohol were similar. We kept informal statistics, and were amazed by the results. I did this in another country and we presented those findings to law makers, which led to some of the earliest legislation regarding cell phone use and driving. Unfortunately like most other laws, they are not enforced. This is a low priority for police departments that have higher priority calls.


Since then there have been more formal studies in the United States, that match those very informal street medic observations. The Brain Injury Society has found that drinking alcohol and texting are comparable, which does not surprise me. For the record, they also report that deaths due to drunk driving are declining, due to stricter laws. As to texting, they report:

Texting & Driving On The Rise. Distracted driving resulted in approximately 2,600 deaths in 2002. The number of distracted driving accidents increased by 22% in 2011 and resulted in 3,331 fatalities. Texting while driving is a leading cause of distracted driving. However, the NHTSA reports that texting while driving is currently responsible for approximately 1.6 million accidents every year – about 25% of all driving accidents.

More recent data points to how the problem is actually growing. Again, according to End Driving While Distracted:

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Adminitration, over 3,331 people were killed and over 387,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents connected to distracted driving. That represents 10 percent of all fatal crashes and 17 percent of all accidents that caused injuries. The National Safety Council disputes these findings, and says that at least 28 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by texting and cell phone use alone—never mind other distractions

These numbers are troubling. Parents rightfully worry about their young drivers taking the wheel for the first time. Foremost in the minds of many parents are young drivers using alcohol (a whole different discussion), or drugs. Texting is just as dangerous. And yes, there is an app for that. We cannot vouch for these apps, because we simply avoid answering the phone or plain out using it when behind the wheel. I have yet to buy a hands free device, for example. So we are just giving you the links.

Cell Control

Life Saver

Apple is thinking about disabling the phone texting feature while you drive, and there are other things that will come to the market. Also, when buying a vehicle, many manufactures now market the hands free features of the vehicle. They are not safer. So consider saving some money and getting a base vehicle without those features.

When I was a medic, the driver used the radio as little as possible. And that was by design. We were trained in defensive driving, but those 5 to 15 seconds that it took to answer the radio meant our eyes were off the road. Take it from trained professionals, just don’t do it. That text can wait, and so can that call. But if you as a parent do it, your kids will repeat the behavior behind the wheel. Have that talk, but make sure you also change your behavior.

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3 replies

  1. Very good story, Nadin. I was surprised that hands-free phones aren’t substantially safer than holding a cell phone,since the former is legal. What were they basing the laws on?

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  1. Working to Stop Distracted Driving – Reporting San Diego

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