What is distracted driving? Simply put, distracted driving is any activity that takes attention away from the driver of a vehicle. These distractions can be broken down into three main types: visual, manual, and cognitive.
Visually distracted driving can include anything from texting on your phone to applying makeup, looking at navigation and entertainment systems, or even playing a game.
Manual distractions involve taking your hands off the wheel, whether this is to pick up something that was dropped, eating, drinking, or tinkering with the stereo.
Cognitive distractions are those that take your mind off of driving – speaking with other passengers in the car, driving while sad or angry, and a number of other potential risks.
As we all know, texting and driving is an especially dangerous distraction as it combines all three types. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reading a text message for five seconds is long enough to cover a football field driving at 55 mph. That’s a long distance to be driving without looking at the road. And of course, not only does this put your life at risk, but it endangers the lives of those around you.
Remember that it’s best to err on the side of caution if an activity takes attention away from the task of safely driving a vehicle – it’s distracted driving
Statistics: According to a study conducted in March 2017 by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are nine fatalities and 1,000 injuries daily involving distracted drivers. This is just short of half a million people each year. In the United States, 69 percent of drivers aged 18-64 admitted to using their cell phones while driving. And the young drivers, under age 20, are not only the most avid texters, but they make up approximately 27 percent of the drivers in fatal crashes attributed to distracted driving. Texting while driving causes 5 times as many accidents than drunk driving. A personal injury law firm in California stated that during daylight hours, 90 percent of total drivers are using their cell phones and other electronic devices every second. This activity alone increases the risk of becoming involved in an accident by three times over normal risk probability. And if you throw texting into the mix, according to the CDC, accidents are 23 times more likely.
Why do we do it?— David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, claims that it all has to do with the addictive nature of smartphones and how our brain instinctively responds to incoming texts or social media updates. He states that in most cases, we aren’t even aware of the effects that phones have on our brains because it’s a chemical reaction. When we hear the sound of a text or the notification of an update, our brain gets a sudden jolt of dopamine energizing the reward circuitry in our brains. And that expectation of a reward — Who’s texting me? Who tagged me on social media? — leads to a higher burst of dopamine than the reward itself.
Dopamine is the chemical that leads to increased arousal, amplifying the reward receptors in our brains. These “reward centers” are the same places in our brain that have to do with pleasure from eating, pleasure from sex and procreation, gambling, smoking, and drinking. So when we get a text, these reward centers light up and we receive an increased burst of dopamine, which feels good. Even still, why would we potentially sacrifice our lives for a text?
Greenfield goes on to explain that in an elevated dopamine state caused by text messages or notification updates, the reward center shuts down access to our prefrontal cortex, which is where our reasoning and judgment occurs. So while we know that a text message is not worth a life, in the event of a text message, we have less access to the part of our brains that would normally allow us to reason and think logically. “The parts of the brain that say, ‘OK, how important is this text? Is this text worth dying for? Is this text worth killing somebody else for?’ ” Greenfield said.
The solution? All but 3 states have laws on the books that prohibit texting why driving, but even with laws on the books, the problem shows no sign of going away. Groups like EndDD “End Distracted Driving” AT&T’s “It can wait campaign” are all steps in the right direction to educate the masses, and education is our best chance to reduce the problem. BSR’s Accident Avoidance class addresses this problem and many other hazards that confront the average driver on the road. Classroom lectures and actual in-car practice on techniques to improve driver awareness and responses in emergency situations.