Distracted driving is not a new concept – it has been an issue for years, but only recently has it become a major factor in collisions. Whether it’s glancing down to find something at the bottom of your purse or texting your friend that you’re on the way while driving, something important can happen in those few seconds when your eyes are off the road.
Young Drivers of Canada recently hosted an event to spread awareness of how distraction seriously impairs our ability to drive safely. Their Eyes on The Road Solution Event started off with a timed course by following written instructions and counting backwards on a cellphone, all while maneuvering through a series of pylons, a cyclist and a few other vehicles.
After much cursing on my part, I successfully got through the course in a shiny red Prius C. Well, technically. I completed half the course backwards by accident, but how could I focus when the gentlemen on the other end of the phone asked me to count backwards from 750 … in threes?! Truth be told, I’m awful at math, but 741 minus three shouldn’t really be that hard (my seven-year-old self is howling in laughter right about now). After four minutes in distraction hell, I drove back to Young Driver’s Markham location to hear all about how this type of driving really works.
Charles Shrybman has over 20 years of experience under his belt in driver education. He is Young Drivers’ Senior Regional Trainer and explained to us how distracted driving takes on many forms.
The first thing that popped into my mind when it came to distracted driving would be cellular use while driving, but there are a myriad of other tasks that take your eyes off the road. They include eating in the car, listening to loud music, smoking, talking to passengers, looking at scenery, street noise … the list goes on. All of these can detract your attention from the road for just a split second. That’s all it takes for you to hit (or be hit with) something and be involved in an accident.
According to OPP numbers, there were just under 76,000 collisions in 2014 in Ontario. About 1,500 of those collisions were alcohol-related and a whopping 8,525 of those collisions were caused by distractions. The numbers of attention-related collisions has been much higher than drunk driving collisions since 2012 and they’ve steadily been creeping up.
With the rise of the smartphone, automakers have realized something had to be done in order to reduce collisions caused by distracted driving. The evidence of this is all around us, with more and more vehicles offering hands-free solutions. Most recently, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offers voice-activated commands where you can do everything from requesting particular a song to play to texting someone back – all while keeping your hands of the wheel.
The problem, however, is when you’re using your hand to text your friend back or using a voice-activated command. In that situation, you’re still cognitively disengaged from driving. That is, you’re still lost in thought with what you’re doing other than driving, whether it’s munching on a sandwich, seeing a “For Sale” sign on that house you just passed or asking your significant other what they want for dinner. You aren’t giving your full attention to the road because you’re trying to multi-task and that can lead to a collision. While the implementation of all these new technologies is useful, it isn’t getting to the root of the problem: We need to be more attentive to the road in front of us.
Picture this: you’re texting on your cellphone whilst driving (which is, of course, illegal) and every two to three seconds, you look up at the road to make sure you won’t hit anything. However, the last time you looked up, you didn’t see that car a little ways ahead come in to merge into your lane. Suddenly, the next time you look up, it’s too late. Charles Shrybman showed us this video in order to drive this point further. This is called inattentional / perceptual blindness or selective attention, meaning when you’re looking for one thing, other events can often go unnoticed.
After the presentation, we were asked to go back and repeat the course. This time around, while we still had the same written instructions, we were allowed to decline certain instructions. This meant, of course, that we could decline having to use our cell phone while driving and in turn, meant we could do the course faster and a lot safer. My time was cut down by almost a minute and I was able to focus on both the cyclist and the driver that had come up in my blind spot. Overall, it was less stressful drive.
The point of all of this is to realize how distractions can come in many different forms. Everyone has come in contact with a driving distraction at some point and we need to consciously work in order to become a better, less distracted driver. While it is impossible to completely eliminate this, Young Drivers suggests many ways to decrease the risk of collisions from distractions. Some of them include mapping your route in advance, adjusting your mirrors and answer all calls, texts or emails before starting the car, as well as being familiar with your vehicle’s controls and making sure everything inside is either secure or in the trunk. For more tips on how you can become a less distracted driver, check out the Ministry of Transportation’s website.