Full Attention Required
LT. COL. CHRIS TYLER
U.S. European Command Joint Analytic Center
U.S. Army Reserve
Fort Meade, Maryland
Perhaps you know the type of overachiever who claims he can effectively carry out many tasks all at the same time. I’m one of those people. I can’t help it. Still, I know deep down I am more effective when I focus on one activity at a time.
During this modern electronic era, information moves faster and people expect responses no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Additionally, we live in a chaotic world, and staying focused has become more difficult than ever. The battle for our attention is a zero-sum game, meaning there is only so much of it to go around. Every time we attempt to perform one more additional task at the same time, less attention goes to everything else.
In truth, our attention goes back and forth between the tasks. In an office setting, multitasking is not necessarily very dangerous to yourself or others. On the road, however, losing focus can be deadly. Driving by itself involves keeping track of many details, all while maneuvering a heavy hunk of metal and rubber down a road, side by side with other motorists.
Some distractions are outside the vehicle, such as other cars, pedestrians and cyclists. Signs and billboards can also be distracting. Let’s add to this some distractions inside the vehicle. Having a radio on seems pretty passive and not much of a distraction, unless what the person is talking about is interesting and draws some of your attention, as in a talk show or news program. What if you have one or more passengers riding along, involving you in a discussion? These are other forms of distraction.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2012-2018, 9% of fatal crashes involved distracted drivers, claiming the lives of approximately 23,000 people. Among those killed just in 2018 were 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists.
All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction, according to the NHTSA. Other examples of distractions include:
- Using a cellphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Grooming/applying makeup
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting the audio system
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a car swerve out of its lane, only to notice that the driver has a cellphone pressed hard against his ear. The driver may have been seeing the road with their eyes, but only a percentage of their attention was actually dedicated to their driving. Do yourself, your passengers and your fellow drivers on the road a favor. Avoid distracting activities while driving. Put your full attention onto the task at hand and enjoy a safe ride.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. In support of the observance, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is teaming with state and local law enforcement to save lives and make the roadways safer by combating distracted driving through its “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign. NHTSA is working with road safety organizations and advocates to remind Americans that distracted driving can result in costly consequences. From April 11 to 15, law enforcement will also be making a special effort to identify and ticket anyone who insists on risking their safety and that of others by driving distracted. For more information, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/distracted-driving/april-distracted-driving-awareness-month.
U Drive. U Text. U Pay.
Forty-eight states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have passed laws making it illegal to text while driving. As a key part of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, law enforcement will be hypervigilant, looking for distracted drivers and charging fines. Since 2007, drivers age 16-24 have been distracted by devices at higher rates than other drivers, but we're all at risk for distracted driving crashes. Consider these tips for safe driving:
- If you must send or receive a text, pull over to a safe location and park your car first.
- If you have passengers, appoint a “designated texter” to handle all of your texting.
- If you can’t resist the temptation to look at it, keep your phone in the trunk.