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Trend: Driving while Distracted -- Maybe Heightened Awareness Can Help...

Sun Jul 19, 2009 - 9:25 PM EDT - By Annie Latham

New York Times article addresses driving while distracted

You can't legislate against stupidity.

That quote came from Carl Wimmer, a state representative in Salt Lake City who successfully fought a bill this year to ban talking while driving. “Why pick on cellphones?” he asked, noting that distraction comes in many forms.

He's got a point. And in California, where the hands-free driving law has been in place for over a year, there are still multiple cases of stupidity witnessed on a daily basis.

The New York Times has taken steps to raise the awareness of the dangers of driving while distracted, starting with a front page story in the Sunday paper. Online, it goes for 6 pages and is well worth a read.

The article first provides a vivid example of when things go bad -- in this case, it was a 20-year old who ended up killing someone because he was so engrossed in a phone conversation, he missed a red light.

The article goes on to discuss results from research indicating "that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated."

Also noted is that "hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe."

Furthermore, new studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

There was a whole section that delved into the dangers of multi-tasking. University of Utah, Professor Strayer found that multitasking drivers are four times as likely to crash as people who are focused on driving." His research matches two other studies (one in Canada and the other in Australia).

The article also pointed to how "drivers conversing with fellow passengers do not present the same danger, because adult riders help keep drivers alert and point out dangerous conditions and tend to talk less in heavy traffic or hazardous weather."

Another point raised in the article had to do with why people feel the need to be in constant contact (via phone or text). John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a specialist on the science of attention, explained that when people use digital devices, they get a quick burst of adrenaline, “a dopamine squirt.”

We all have a duty to "drive first." We owe it to ourself, our passengers and those who share the road with us. Gadgets are nice. Communication hands-free is convenient and sometimes, actually quite efficient. But first thing's first. Drive.

Read this article. Share it with people you know. And watch for other articles in this series. Heightened awareness is a good thing (of the issue itself and while driving)!

[photo source: KCBS]

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