Not just distracted, but "digitally" distracted
Is distracted driving a 21st century phenomenon, or simply an in vogue term now part of our vernacular used to described someone’s tendencies to allow their concentration or focus to be disturbed when behind the wheel in this day of digital devices?
If we were to say, “digitally distracted driving” we could perhaps lay the blame for the condition at the feet of people of all ages who take their eyes off the road while manipulating a cell phone, tablet, or the touch screen of their automobile. But, such is not the case. It is not a new problem, but, rather, one that’s been around as long as the automobile. In recent years it has become more recognizable as a problem on our highways in large part because of the commonplace use of hand held devices.
Handheld devices are not the sole culprit. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points to growing evidence that suggests there is not significant conclusive evidence that talking on a cell phone increases crash risks. Researchers into the cause of accidents on the highways are more consistently linking cell phone use to increased risk, but other forms of distraction are also being identified as well.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers any activity that distracts a driver’s attention from the primary task of driving including adjusting a radio, eating and drinking, reading, grooming, interacting with passengers as well as picking up items that have fallen onto the floor as primary causes of inattentiveness at the wheel. The advent of larger, more complex information displays as an integral part of dashboards in new vehicles are also contributing to crashes because of the lack of a tactile knob, button or bar that requires being rotated, pushed or slid as part of an onboard system (air conditioning, heat, radio, ventilation, etc.).
How do we address this creeping dependence on complicated systems in such a manner so as to reduce crashes?
Incorporating enhanced driver alerting technology that causes the driver to take action to stay within travel lanes, brake the car before rear-ending a vehicle ahead, or reducing speed when approaching a sharp corner, intersection, or stop sign are all technological advances finding their way into newly produced vehicles. Perhaps part of the answer in certain settings will be self driven vehicles. In the meantime, however, it is incumbent upon all of us to take steps to increase situational awareness, refrain from answering the phone just because it rings, and go back to paying attention to our driving patterns.