Driving Distractions and Accidents
The attention focused on distracted driving has raised public awareness considerably regarding the dangers of attempting to multi-task while operating a motor vehicle. While traditional distractions like chatting with passengers, adjusting the radio, reading a newspaper, and grooming continue to be a problem, most government safety campaigns have focused on the dangers posed by electronic devices like cellphones. Certainly, these types of distractions justify the attention garnered by government regulators and media sources, but there are three prevalent forms of distraction that many motorist never even consider a problem: (1) eating and drinking, (2) child passengers, and (3) unsecured pets. Despite the fact these distractions get limited attention from the media and lawmakers, they are prevalent and extremely dangerous.
Eating and Drinking While Driving Plays a Role in 80 Percent of Car Accidents
While texting or talking on a cell phone is certainly dangerous, most people consume food and drinks while driving without a second thought to the potential risk. Many fast food restaurants even use special packaging for food that will be consumed in a vehicle. While some motorists might discount the risk of eating and drinking behind the wheel, this practice can cause a fatal car accident in a number of ways:
- The driver might divert his or her mental focus or vision from the road to deal with a spill of scalding coffee or soup in the motorist’s lap.
- The motorist might divert his or her eyes from the road while fussing with wrappers or opening beverage containers.
- When condiments or other items drip from a messy food source, the driver might divert his eyes, mind, and hands to clean up the mess.
Although it might be comforting to presume that auto accidents caused by these types of distractions are rare, a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of rear-end collisions occur because drivers are eating and drinking while driving. Despite the potential danger, attitudes toward ingesting food and drinks while driving have not deterred this form of distracted driving. A study conducted by ExxonMobile Corp. found that seventy percent of drivers eat and 83 percent drink while driving.
The study also highlighted the most dangerous foods and beverages to consume while driving. These food and beverages include: burgers, coffee, soups, ribs, wings, soda, fried chicken, chocolate, and jelly donuts. Hot beverages and messy foods tend to be the most distracting to motorists based on this list of foods.
Child Passengers Might Constitute Most Dangerous Distraction for Parents
While keeping their children safe typically is priority number one for most parents when driving, they face a serious distraction that receives little attention – their kids sitting in the backseat. A study conducted by Australian researchers and reported by CBS found that kids in the backseat were twelve times more distracting than talking on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. The researchers determined that the average parent took their eyes off the road to deal with a child passenger an average of 21 percent of the time, which amounted to 3 minutes and 22 seconds during a brief sixteen minute excursion. While breaking up arguments between siblings was a common problem, the most serious distraction involved dealing with fussy babies. Another study conducted by AAA found that babies are eight times more distracting to drivers than adult passengers.
“Lots of attention has been given to distracted teen drivers,” according to Michelle Macy, lead author of a recent study reported in the American Academy of Pediatrics. “However, our results indicate parent are frequently distracted while driving their 1-to-12-year old children, and these drivers were more likely to have been in a crash.”
Because drivers who avert their eyes from the road for even a few seconds can easily rear-end a stopped vehicle or run over a young child attempting to cross the street, parents with children need to be aware of the danger of distractions caused by child passengers. When drivers collide with other vehicles or hit bicyclists or pedestrians because their attention is not fully focused on driving, they can be held financially responsible.
Unrestrained Pets Can Pose a Mental and Physical Distraction to Drivers
Although most people have allowed their pet to ride along in their car, dogs, cats and, other pets can pose a deadly distraction. While there are ways to secure a pet, such as a pet carrier that is secured with a seat harness, animals loose in the vehicle can jump on the driver’s lap or climb down under his feet impairing his ability to steer or brake. Even a well-behaved animal that is not secured can cause permanent debilitating injuries when the pet becomes a projectile during an accident or when slamming on the brakes.
A study conducted by AAA in collaboration with Kurgo, a pet supply company, found that almost sixty percent of people had driven their dog in a vehicle at least once per month during the previous year. Further, thirty percent of drivers surveyed admitted being distracted by their dog at some point. A staggering 65 percent of dog owners admit to engaging in some form of distracting behavior when transporting their dogs. These activities included:
- Petting their dog (52 percent)
- Using their hands to restrain the dog while braking (23 percent)
- Reaching into the back seat to interact with the dog (18 percent)
- Permitting the dog to sit in the motorist’s lap (17 percent)
- Providing treats to the dog (13 percent)
- Playing with the dog (4 percent)
- Snapping pictures of the dog (3 percent)
This form of distracted driving can easily cause devastating car accidents because averting one’s eyes from the road for only two seconds doubles the risk of being involved in a collision according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
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