EHS OutLoud Blog

Driving Should Not Be the Distraction

distrdriver.jpgI’m going to be honest with you: I think the National Transportation Safety Board has a long road (pun intended) ahead of it if it expects states to ban all calling, texting, Web browsing and other activities performed on any type of personal electronic device while behind the wheel. And I’m going to take what might be a fairly unpopular view and say: I support a ban.

The recommendation calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.

David Strayer, Ph.D., a distracting driving researcher and the director of the University of Utah's Applied Cognition Lab, told EHS Today that he thinks NTSB’s recommendations “are spot on,” adding, “Talking on a phone, or texting, or using GPS, or looking at your screen or using Facebook are significant distractions that are increasing crash risk.”

I’ve been known to talk and drive and even text and drive, but a close call this summer with a wrong-way driver opened my eyes to the danger in which I was placing others and myself. Although the wrong-way driver was clearly, well, wrong, I would have been killed had I been distracted because I was talking on the phone, looking at a GPS or texting. The crash would not have been my fault, but I still would have been dead.

More than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents. Globally, there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers, which is 77 percent of the world’s population.

Let’s think back to what we did before cell phones and smart phones dominated our lives. Conversations weren’t limited to two-word texts. We offered the people on the other end of the phone our undivided attention because we weren’t driving at the same time we were talking. We paid attention to the road because we weren’t trying to read and drive at the same time.

As leaders in the safety industry, would we encourage employees to watch television while driving forklifts? Text their spouses while simultaneously operating a drill press? Operate a backhoe while updating their Facebook status? Not in a million years!

So why would it ever be OK for an employee to text, check missed calls or return an email while driving down a highway or a busy street?

As I found out this past summer, danger can come at you suddenly –seemingly out of nowhere – and you won’t see it coming if you’re busy checking in on Foursquare or Tweeting about the latest basketball trade.

Is it reasonable to expect that everyone will put down his or her smart phone? No. But speaking from experience, if you don’t want to die in horrible crashes, it is reasonable to put that phone down until you can give it your undivided attention.

Driving shouldn’t be the distraction that takes our attention away from our work and entertainment. Somehow our priorities have gotten screwed up and it’s time for that to change before more lives are lost.

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