Winter 2003 Forward to a Friend


Safe driving requires 100 percent of your attention.

It’s a statement that seems glaringly obvious – something you’d expect to find in the first pages of a driving-school workbook, not worthy of a second thought. After all, who doesn’t pay attention when driving?

And then you think of the other drivers you’ve seen on the road. The one shuffling through a stack of compact discs. The one precariously juggling a cheeseburger and a handful of fries. The one holding a cellular phone in one hand and a day planner in the other. And maybe you reluctantly think of times when you’ve been less than attentive behind the wheel. Suddenly, that statement about inattentive drivers seems worth revisiting.

By the Numbers

And the experts agree. Recent studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report that at least 25 percent of crashes reported to the police involve some form of driver inattention. Estimates from other studies report figures ranging as high as 35 to 50 percent.

Lots of different distractions are affecting lots of different drivers, and those distractions are taking their toll.

According to AAA studies, a driver doing something as seemingly mundane as inserting a CD increases the likelihood of an accident six times compared to, for example, glancing at the fuel gauge. Programming onboard navigation systems can increase the likelihood of an accident 30 times, and talking on a cellular telephone in a moving vehicle quadruples the risk of an accident.

  • Outside person, object or event
  • Adjusting radio/cassette/CD
  • Other occupant
  • Moving object in vehicle(dog, insect, spilled drink, etc.)
  • Other device/object (water bottles, purses, etc.)
  • Adjusting vehicle/climate controls
  • Eating and/or drinking
  • Using/dialing cellular phone
  • Smoking related
  • Other distractions
(Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)

Perhaps surprisingly, most studies haven’t identified a single item or activity that causes the most accidents. Studies have, however, been able to spot trends by age group. According to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS) study, drivers under 20 were especially likely to be distracted by operating the radio or changing CDs, while young adults (between 20 and 29) seemed to be more distracted by other passengers. Drivers over 65 were more likely to be distracted by objects or events happening outside the vehicle.

Gender plays its part, too. Most (63 percent) of the distracted drivers were male. As a group, males drive more than females and are more likely to be involved in serious crashes.

What can you do? While you can’t affect the attention level of the other drivers around you on the highway, you can take a long look at your own driving style and consider what you can do (or not do) while you’re behind the wheel to eliminate distractions. Your safety, as well as the safety of your passengers, depends on it.

  • Always buckle up
  • Never drive impaired by alcohol, drugs, fatigue or stress
  • Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the driving environment
  • Be sure all passengers and objects are properly restrained
  • Don’t engage in stressful or emotional conversation that might divert your attention from the road
  • “Hands-free” cellular phone operation is not risk-free – the more complex the conversation, the higher the level of distraction
  • Do not take notes or look up telephone numbers while driving
  • Don’t eat and drive
  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Do not apply makeup while driving
  • Don’t read and drive
(Source: AAA)