Avoid Distracted Driving: Don’t Get Teary and Put Down Siri

This article is an excerpt from The Transportation Issue of our newsletter, Risk Management Essentials.

Whether it is sending a quick text or recalling a very emotional memory or event, distracted driving is incredibly commonplace on roads throughout the United States and abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes three primary varieties of distraction:

  1. visual-taking your eyes off the road
  2. manual-taking your hands off the wheel
  3. cognitive-taking your mind off driving

Put Down Siri

Activities that may serve to distract a driver in one or more of the ways identified by the CDC include talking on the phone, texting, eating and drinking, having conversations with passengers, tuning the radio or setting your GPS, or thinking about an emotional event that happened during your day.

Some of these distractions may seem insignificant, but distracted driving accidents and injuries are a huge problem in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

In fact, the CDC reports that each day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. Texting is widely believed to be one of the most dangerous distracted driving behaviors, due to the fact that it can involve all three types of distraction (visual, manual and cognitive) defined by the CDC. In response to the growing knowledge and understanding about the risks of texting while driving, the majority of states have enacted laws banning texting while driving, and some states, such as Maryland, prohibit the use of handheld devices entirely. Other states, like Arkansas and Texas, limit the use of handheld devices for certain groups, like young drivers, or in certain situations, such as when driving through active school zones.

Although the state laws help remind many of us that texting while driving is a bad idea-both because of the potential injurious consequences, and the possible fines and other legal penalties-research supporting the effectiveness of these laws is still not conclusive. The best strategy to help end the distracted driving epidemic and avoid costly and dangerous accidents and injuries to your employees, volunteers and clients, is to educate your team and advocate for safe driving, starting at your nonprofit today.

Don’t Get Teary

While most drivers know the effect that distractions such as eating a meal or using a cell phone while driving have on their safety, there has been much less widespread recognition of the effect of emotions on driving ability. Recent research has demonstrated that emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, fatigue, agitation, and other common emotions experienced while driving can be just as distracting as being under the influence or texting.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) was founded more than 25 years ago and conducts transportation research in order to save lives, time, and money, and to protect the environment. A recent research study from VTTI, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that drivers who get behind the wheel while observably angry, sad, crying, or emotionally agitated increase their risk of crashing by nearly tenfold. (Continue reading this article in The Transportation Issue of our newsletter, Risk Management Essentials.)