KMP Enrichment Blog                     By: David Applegate, EHS Manager

September 2021 

Yes, it is Bad – but we do it anyways! (Distracted Driving)

Often time while driving alone, I have conversations with myself (or with imaginary friends or family members).  The conversations may range from how one friend needs to start saving their money rather than spending it daily at Starbucks to how another friend should stop neglecting their family by spending their spare time on the golf course!!  At times these imaginary conversations become so involved that I drive right by my exit! 

This very situation happened just the other day.  I was driving home from work and was in the middle of an “intense conversation” with a young teenage friend that involved their homework and video games!  I was waxing eloquently to myself as to how their schoolwork is being sourly neglected and how their time playing video games is being overly indulged.  Now, yes, I do realize it is just the beginning of the school year for this young friend but is it possible that they could be in the same grade again next year if this pattern of “neglect and indulge” continues. 

As a result of me chattering-away, while weaving through the afternoon traffic, I drove right past the turn that leads into my neighborhood.  That is right, I was so terribly distracted by my mental exercise of naming reasons as to why video games were such a huge distraction for my dear friend that I drove right past my home! 

That little admittance as to how I often drive by my intended destination is a situation that happens all too often to many drivers.  So, let’s talk! 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration distracting driving was directly responsible for 23,000 deaths and over a million injuries in the U.S. during the years 2012 to 2018.  And (a little closer to home) according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, distracted driving-related crashes cost employers a staggering $18.8 billion in 2019. 

What is even more “staggering” is that despite all the attention that is given to the dangers of distracted driving, driving statistics indicate that many of us, as drivers, are not taking these dangers seriously.  I am guessing that most of us think of cell phones when we talk about distracted driving.  There are, however, many different types of distracted driving.  For instance, checking your GPS and navigation system, road rage, changing the radio station or looking for a song on your play list, searching for items in your vehicle, eating, drinking and yes, even imaginary conversations!  The fact is, anything that takes your mind and focus away from driving can be considered a distraction. 

Just for the record, the National highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as: “any non-driving activity that occurs behind the wheel.”  It identifies the three types of distracted driving as: 

  • Visual:  Taking your eyes off the road 
  • Manual:  Taking your hands off the wheel 
  • Cognitive:  Taking your mind off the act of driving 

As I finish, let me leave you with five truths about distracted driving and then a final though. 

  1. Driving and Multitasking do not mix!  We have research to show that when you are doing two things at once, you brain is actually just switching between the two tasks very rapidly.  So, every additional task you do while driving detracts from your ability to drive well and increases your chance of having a collision.
  2. When you attempt to multitask while driving, your eye activity slows down, and your problem-solving skills are diminished. 
  3. Studies tell us that it takes your brain up to 13 seconds to refocus on your surroundings after looking at your cell phone – even if you “only glance at it for a second.”  As your brain refocuses, your driving skills are not at their best. 
  4. Eating while driving is often riskier than talking on a cell phone.  Food can cause problems like spills and leaks that demand our immediate attention and may cause us to take our eyes off the road.  If you are eating, you are also taking at least one hand off the wheel, which reduces your ability to react to driving situations. 
  5. I read one report which stated that nearly 80% of crashes involved the driver’s inattention in the three seconds right before the crash.  The study went on to say that driver inattention is also the leading factor in crashes and near-crashes. 

My final thought to you as a fellow driver is this:  All of us are guilty of being distracted behind the wheel every-now-and-then, to that we readily admit.  The question is, what level of distraction are you comfortable with while driving?