Distracted Drivers and Auto Accidents
By Aaron Larson
Although it is common knowledge that a distracted driver is more likely to make errors in judgment which lead to an accident, some amount of distraction is unavoidable. By respecting their own limits, and planning ahead, drivers can minimize the hazard posed by distractions.
Many distractions within a car are under the control of the driver, and the driver should attempt to minimize any such distractions. Examples include:
Application of Make-Up - It is not appropriate for the driver of a vehicle to apply make-up while the vehicle is in motion.
Cellular Phone Usage - Although it is common to use cellular phones while driving, drivers should take care when dialing that they are still giving appropriate attention to the road and, when road conditions or the act of driving requires, should be prepared to put their conversation on hold. Drivers should not send text messages ("txting") while driving.
Children - Kids can be very distracting to drivers, particularly when they are bored, upset, or surprised, Children can also suddenly yell inappropriate things, like "Stop!", without understanding how such declarations can affect the driver of a car.
Dropped Items - Drivers should avoid trying to pick up items dropped to the floor of a car while the car is in motion. If a dropped object may become lodged in the pedals, the driver should exercise appropriate care to prevent that from happening, if necessary pulling over and stopping in order to recover the object.
Eating - The act of eating can be distracting, as can the consequence of dropping food. Ideally, drivers will eat before they drive or during a break from driving.
Exhaustion - A tired driver is more likely to lose focus while driving. An exhausted driver may fall asleep at the wheel. Within the context of motorcycle accidents, sleepiness can be as dangerous as alcohol consumption.
Reading - Books, maps, directions, and other written materials are best read when a car is at a full stop.
Use of Computers, DVD Players and PDA's - Some electronic devices require so much attention that drivers simply should not attempt to use them while driving.
Use of the Radio or CD Player - Drivers should not let themselves be distracted by adjusting a radio or changing CD's while driving.
Sometimes events outside of the car can be very distracting, or will require that a driver exercise some self-discipline to avoid becoming distracted. Examples include:
Accidents - Following an accident, traffic tends to slow at the accident scene while the road is clear, but often will remain unduly slow as "rubber-neckers" pay more attention to the accident than they do to the roadway ahead of them. In some cases, rubber-neckers in an oncoming traffic lane have caused accidents while trying to see the aftermath of an accident on the other side of a street or highway.
Construction - Driving through a construction zone may be confusing, particularly when traffic must detour. Activity along the roadway, merge points, unexpected traffic backups, and the presence of heavy machinery may increase the possibility of a motor vehicle accident. Aggressive drivers can cause accidents as they attempt to pass cars or merge at the last possible moment.
Emergency Vehicles - Unexpected sirens, or the presence of an emergency vehicle on the roadway with its lights flashing, can be surprising. Drivers should respect the presence of emergency vehicles, and should yield to them as required by law.
Pedestrian Conduct - Sometimes the conduct of people at the side of the roadway, or even in the roadway, will become an undue point of focus for a driver, distracting the driver from other vehicles.
Stop-and-Start Traffic - Boredom from being stuck in stop-and-start traffic can cause a driver's attention to drift, increasing the risk of a rear-end collision.
To the extent possible, drivers should attempt to minimize distraction such that they can give sufficient focus and attention to the act of driving. Some advance planning, such as having the correct CD's in the CD player or changer, waiting until the car is stopped to dial a cellular phone, or having suitable distractions for bored kids, can help avoid distractions while on the road.
When distractions are unexpected or unavoidable, drivers should recognize how the distraction is affecting their ability to drive in a safe and appropriate manner. If necessary, a driver may be well-served by pulling over and stopping the car until the distraction is resolved.
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