Distractions and Traffic Accidents


by Wayne Patterson

I can remember when all we had to worry about while driving were the speedometer and fuel gauge. Today our vehicles are crammed with electronic devices such as GPS systems, cell phones, television sets, and laptop computers. The cab of an eighteen wheeler truck now resembles the cockpit of an airliner with switches, gauges, lights and computerized instruments. The result is that many traffic fatalities can be attributed to what I call “accitraction” ( a traffic accident that is the result of driver distraction). The current estimate is that between twenty to thirty percent of all traffic accidents are caused by distractions such as eating, talking on a cell phone, or simply changing radio stations.

The response by government has been predictable with loud demands from many in politics and the press for a ban on cell phones while driving. New York State has taken the lead and cell phone use while driving is now illegal in that state. Similar legislation is pending in other areas. Cell phones appear to be the next “politically correct” target for the lawyer/politicians now that they have spent all of the tobacco money. I expect that restaurants will soon be required to have “no cell phone” designated areas. Actually that may not be a bad idea.

Starting in January of 2003 the federal government will require all states to track the number of accidents caused by drivers being distracted by electronic devices. These statistics or “statistractions” will be used to determine if these devices are really a serious safety problem. Meanwhile manufacturers and engineers are developing more electronic devices designed to increase safety. An example is a computer that would prevent access to a cell phone, TV, or GPS mapping system if the driver was in extremely congested traffic. We are now developing computers to prevent us from using other computers - go figure. One system that is very promising would sound a warning if a biometric sensor detected that the driver was drowsy.

Until these new devices are available I do have a few suggestions. Get up early enough in the morning to eat breakfast or apply makeup without having to perform these tasks while rushing to work in your car. Then get up fifteen minutes earlier so you do not have to rush to work. If you use a cell phone, wait until you can pull over at a safe area before returning calls and taking notes. Today’s traffic with increased speeds and congestion require that you remain alert while at the wheel. Don’t let a distraction cause an accitraction and you won’t become a statistraction.

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