Director of Transportation Safety, National Safety Council
In 2018, nearly 3,000 people died in distraction-related crashes in the United States. A contributing factor in all of these crashes is called “inattention blindness” — the failure to notice a visible hazard because one’s attention is focused elsewhere, even if the hazard is in plain sight.
By doing your part to understand and prevent this cognitive form of distraction, you can keep yourself and others safe on the road.
The wandering mind
Drivers today are contending with more potential distractions than ever before, including cell phones, GPS devices, and in-vehicle infotainment systems. Many succumb to the draw of these electronics while driving, which can distract the mind, and lead to death and injury on the road.
Studies indicate drivers can be distracted even after programming a GPS device or sending a text via a voice command system. Long enough to miss a stop sign or pedestrian? You bet.
Here’s an example: Say a driver is using voice commands to order takeout food. The driver’s brain becomes lost on that order — thin- or thick-crust pizza? What kind of toppings? Instead of focusing on the road, the driver can miss up to half of what is in his or her driving environment, including traffic signals, stopped vehicles, and pedestrians. This behavior can have deadly consequences.
Research shows just listening to a cell phone conversation decreases brain activity associated with driving by more than one-third, leading to safety performance issues, such as the inability to react quickly in congested driving zones. Think of this distraction as driving blindfolded. Who drives like that?
The human brain cannot handle two thinking tasks at the same time, such as driving and talking on the phone. The brain toggles quickly between the two tasks, and – when driving – this can slow reaction time and cause crashes.
To help keep drivers safe behind the wheel, the National Safety Council recommends doing the following before any trip:
- Program your GPS, playlist, or other electronic devices while in park
- Complete any phone calls, texts, or emails while safely parked
- Silence your phone or enable the do-not-disturb feature
- Put your phone in a glove box, purse, or somewhere else out of sight
- Refrain from other distractions once you hit the road
To learn more about inattention blindness and distracted driving, visit nsc.org.