Stay Focused. Drive Safe

The following text is subsection of article called Every Second Matters by Travellers Insurance. Read the full article.

Every Second Matters

Any activity that diverts your attention away from the main task of driving is considered distracted driving.1 It is dangerous and common. Surprisingly, cellphones and texting are just part of the problem. Other behaviors behind the wheel, such as drinking coffee or using a navigation system, may also be putting you at risk.

“The fact is, everything that occupies your mind or your vision can contribute to distraction behind the wheel,” says Chris Hayes, a Travelers Risk Control safety professional. “While many distracted driving studies focus on cellphones, any type of multi-tasking activity and driving simply do not mix.”

Driving with eyes closed? Manual/visual distractions

One of the most important ways people detect danger is through visual observation. To drive while visually distracted means taking your eyes off the road and not seeing potential problems on the road ahead. Unfortunately, this extremely dangerous behavior happens frequently. Manual distractions happen when you take your hand or hands off the wheel, for example, when eating or texting. One study showed that while texting, drivers take their eyes off of the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of them driving the length of a football field with their eyes closed.2 Overall, studies have shown that visual distraction from activities such as dialing or texting on a cellphone can increase driving risk substantially, ranging from five times more likely to have a collision 3 to 23 times more likely to be involved in an unsafe driving event.4

Overworking your brain? Cognitive distraction

The brain can only process so much information at a time. When people attempt to perform multiple tasks at once, such as driving while also eating or talking on a cellphone, these multiple tasks compete for the brain’s attention. Drivers may not only be taking a hand off the wheel, but also taking their minds off the road. These mental distractions, also called cognitive distractions, can contribute to a driver’s inability to fully process the visual scene.

“The fact is, everything that occupies your mind or your vision can contribute to distraction behind the wheel,” says Hayes.

Statistics show that in 94 percent of vehicle collisions, the crash was related to driver error.5 And while there’s an element of chance in any collision, it often boils down to a root cause that becomes compounded by other events, including inattention.

Drivers who are prepared to react to that root cause can help prevent a serious crash more than drivers who are not prepared. According to Hayes, there are things that can help give drivers the time they need to react to conditions that could lead to a collision.

“Maintaining speed and proper following distance gives a driver time to respond to unexpected events,” says Hayes, adding, “Increasing the distance between you and the car ahead can help give you the time you need to recognize a hazard and respond safely.”

The National Safety Council recommends a minimum three second following distance for light vehicles like cars.6 Larger vehicles, such as tractor trailers, can require up to six seconds of following distance when behind other vehicles.

The next time you’re a passenger, close your eyes for a few seconds and see how far you travel. This simple exercise demonstrates that whatever the distraction, taking your eyes off the road for any length of time can reduce your following distance “safety net” and the time you have to reorient to the roadway and maneuver around potential safety hazards. Both exercises demonstrate why every second matters on the road.

1 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Distracted Driving.
2 Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations, FMCSA,
3 Kidd, D.G. and McCartt, A.T. The relevance of crash type and severity when estimating crash risk using the SHRP2 naturalistic driving data, ARRB Group Ltd and Authors, 2015.
4 Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations, FMCSA,
5 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Safety Technologies,
6 National Safety Council, Reference Material for DDC Instructors, 5th Ed.