Driver Safety and Distracted Driving
By Chontell Flight – Certified Health & Safety Consultant
Some hazards on the road are obvious – including other drivers, potholes, construction signs, or pedestrians. Other times, there are dangers on the road that we aren’t expecting – things that “aren’t supposed to be there”. During times when we are distracted, missing these metaphorical “red flags” could have deadly consequences.
Much like we have little idea what may be going on in another person’s life, we also have very little information to support what could be transpiring in another vehicle which may create a threat on the road to others. I feel the need to explain a telling tale here which happened to a family member.
My father works in Western Canada and was travelling home by car on the TCH toward Nova Scotia. A friend agreed to accompany him and share the driving to allow for operator rest breaks. During their drive, my father was startled awake from a nap in the passenger seat when his road buddy suddenly took a diabetic seizure while driving, as his sugars had dropped. His body firmly pressing a rigid leg down on the gas causing sudden acceleration. Thinking quickly, dad hit the emergency lights, shifted the vehicle into neutral, and steered the wheel to move the car onto the shoulder of the roadway until the vehicle slowed to a stop.
My goal in sharing this story is to offer perspective: we never really, honestly, have any idea what could be happening in other vehicles around us on the road as we go about our daily lives – but that unawareness cloaks us in a false sense of security. We need to understand that road safety is not only about our own driving performance on the road, but also anticipating and analyzing the story of the road activities all around us and making informed responses to perceived hazards.
Another pronounced danger is distracted driving. Again and again, we spot distracted drivers as their performance reflects erratic steering, vehicle mobility seemingly without cause, inability to maintain consistent speed, unawareness of others on the road, and many other indications that reflect vehicle operation is not of primary concern to the driver. Generally, we think of distracted driving as using a mobile phone when driving. While this does take up a significant amount of our attention both visually and psychologically, there are many other types of distractions that could be happening in any vehicle. Distractions can come from bad habits like eating or drinking while the vehicle is mobilized, excited or negative conversations or emotions amongst passengers, changing or adjusting the audio or heat controls, or even someone utilizing hands-free as it takes a person’s mind and attention off the road.
Humans are not natural multi-taskers. Let’s assume our attention is a scale of 100%. As we add distractions or additional responsibilities to the list, our attention to each task subtracts from that total. Success comes from giving each duty the care, caution, and attention it deserves to allow for optimal outcomes. For example, have you ever been talking to a passenger, only to miss a turn or forget your route? A portion of your mind is splitting its attention between the task of driving and your conversation – this means you are no longer as observant to the perils which may be present during operation of the vehicle since part of your mind is focused elsewhere.
Road conditions and diversions contribute to decreased reaction times to interruptions as well, like the sudden appearance of wildlife on the road, upcoming construction zones, or other unreported circumstances. The answer to the question “how many things can you do at once” should not be a list demonstrating how effectively we’ve refined the skill of dividing our attention, but instead, it should be “as many as we can do well”.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Invest in a dash cam: capturing video of your vehicle operations can be critical in the event that you need to access that footage for evidence in insurance claims or investigations. These days dash cams are cost-friendly, and many options can be found online with great consumer reviews. I look forward to the day this feature is built-in at the manufacturer level similar to other engineered hazard controls like; seat-belt notifications, airbag light sensors, and backup cameras.
- Use your horn! Many people think it is rude to use this feature on your vehicle – but it can act as notification of hazards to draw the attention of other road users or to communicate risk in order to prevent its occurrence on sight.
- Remain calm. The best advice is always to remain calm – in the event of a vehicle incident, in heavy traffic, during inclement weather, and at all other times when operating a vehicle. This allows the best opportunity to assess situations and make calculated decisions.
- Properly maintain your vehicle. This includes having the proper tires on for the season, ensuring you are not driving on bald tires, following manufacturer recommendations for preventative maintenance, and ensuring you always have a spare tire, jack, and roadside emergency kit.
- Always use your mirrors. Don’t rely on vehicle sensors/notifications or back-up cameras/alarms as a replacement for visual and audible cues.
- Reduce distractions while driving, parking, or when vehicle is in operation. This means putting your phone on silent, not eating or drinking while in use, and anything else that may pull your attention away from the primary task.
- Remain highly aware of the conduct of other road users. Anticipating their actions may provide early indications of caution. In short, this optimizes our defensive driving skills.
Chontell is a Certified Health & Safety Consultant at Rock Solid Safety Solutions with 10 years of industry experience and COR auditing expertise.
Safety blogger & self-proclaimed safety nerd.
‘My goal is to foster interest in safety management using innovative and creative solutions to reduce risk and refine systems. To encourage and motivate personnel toward successful involvement in safety program customization, team building, and promoting a positive safety culture. I believe all people can offer constructive contributions toward safety management for the greater good.’