Don’t let distractions drive you off the road

Written by 

With summer comes an increase in risky behaviors behind the wheel. Drowsiness after a long day at work or play or more frequent travel with children and friends both can distract your attention from the road — along with technology and traffic tirades.

More than 32,000 people are killed and 2 million are injured each year in motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every day, nine deaths and more than 1,000 injuries involve a distracted driver, according to the  USDOT National Center for Statistics and Analytics.

Before you crank the car, think about these four things that increase the risk of a crash — from drowsy driving to road rage — and increase the likelihood you’ll get safely to your destinations this summer:

1. Keep your eyes open.

1. Keep your eyes open.

Don’t drive drowsy. You know the signs: increased blinking, longer blink durations, slower eye movements, falling asleep while stopped in traffic, swerving, slow reaction time and poor decision-making.

Conservative estimates are that drowsy driving is linked to one in five fatal crashes, and people who typically sleep four to five hours per night are five times more likely to be involved in a crash, says Benjamin McManus, Ph.D., postdoc researcher in the UAB’s TRIP (Translational Research and Injury Prevention) Lab, because “cognitive resources are directed away from the task of driving.”

If you catch yourself driving while drowsy, McManus suggests a few options. Take a nap, Drink a caffeinated beverage. Open a window. Better still, put the car in park.
2. Keep your eyes forward.

2. Keep your eyes forward.

Don’t make eye contact with your passengers. Children create a different type of distraction and danger for drivers, especially if drivers are tending to the childrens’ needs while operating the vehicle.

When a child is in the car with you, make sure they have what the need before putting the car in gear. Provide water or snacks if they are able to feed themselves, but remain aware of choking hazards. Provide entertainment, such as a movie or book.

Chatting with adult passengers can be just as dangerous, and according to federal data, more than half of distracted driving accidents were caused by conversations with passengers.

If something or someone in the car requires your full attention, pull off the road.
3. Keep your eyes up.

3. Keep your eyes up.

Don’t text, scan, read, search or program technology. “We call texting while driving the perfect storm,” said Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and director of the TRIP Lab. “It takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off of concentrating on what you should be doing —which is driving.”

But texting isn’t the only issue. “Checking e-mail, interacting through social media, or accessing a map program while driving also can be distracting and dangerous,” said Stavrinos, who called for a little self-control to temper our love for devices.

“These are very valuable tools, and we’re not going to give them up,” she said. “But we have to balance the benefits of staying connected while mitigating the impact of the distractions, whether it’s while driving, walking down the street or even having dinner in a restaurant.”

Stavrinos advises putting the phone far enough away to avoid the temptation to pick it up at the first ding.
4. Keep your eyes on the prize: arriving alive.

4. Keep your eyes on the prize: arriving alive.

Stay calm. Driving can be stressful, and many drivers feel it and show it behind the wheel. Nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed anger, aggression or road rage at least once in the past year by tailgating, yelling at another driver and honking and more, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Other examples of aggressive driving include frequent or unsafe lane changes, running red lights, and speeding. Extreme aggression can escalate to what is known as road rage, that leads to rude or obscene gestures and even attempts to force another driver off the road, or worse.

“Remaining calm is important,” Stavrinos said. “Other drivers can be inconsiderate or driving illegally. These people are not thinking about their safety or the safety of those around them. Don’t take other drivers’ mishaps personally. They are more than likely distracted or upset by other factors.”

Just take a deep breath and a detour from drama.