Distracted driving has been a hot topic in the news for the last several years. The image most people have of distracted driving is texting, but there are many other actions that fall into the category. It is unfortunate that in all forms of drivers ed, including online drivers ed, the focus has been strictly on texting as a distraction. As we'll see, the issue is much broader and many common tasks performed while driving can raise the risk of a collision.
The results of a recent study funded by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), known as the "100-Car Study", shows some surprising results in regards to driving distractions. According to the NHTSA study, the vast majority of crashes involve some form of driver distraction. Indeed, 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes include driver distraction. One of the main conclusions in NHTSA's study is a calculation of the odds of being involved in a crash while performing a secondary task versus "just driving". The definition of a "secondary task" was something the driver was performing while driving not directly related to driving. The following table has been extracted from that study showing a variety of secondary tasks that were observed and a calculation of the odds of increasing a crash while performing that particular task.
The "Type of Secondary Task" column list the most common tasks drivers were observed performing while driving. The list is fairly extensive and includes many everyday distractions that drivers are faced with in the course of their daily driving.
The "Odds Ratio" shows the increased likelihood of a crash occuring as a result of performing the specified task while driving.
There are two surprising aspects of this chart - 1) the odds ratio is very high for some common-place tasks, and 2) some of the tasks are of much higher distraction than is obvious.
Several of the tasks that raise the crash odds substantially are obvious. These include dialing hand-held device, applying makeup, eating, and reading. All of these tasks substantially raise the risk of a crash and most experienced drivers would intuitively understand these risks. However, novice drivers (i.e. those having just completed their driver education) generally do not have the experience to understand these risks and are particularly at risk when performing these tasks.
However, there are a few surprising tasks with serious consequences that even experienced drivers may not recognize, including reaching for a moving object, an insect in the car, and inserting/retrieving a CD. As can be seen from the table, these 3 tasks significantly raise the risk of a crash while not being foremost in most drivers' minds.
The bottom line is that prior to starting your drive if you secure loose items, adjust your music, and know how to get to your destination you will tilt the odds in your favor of arriving at your destination safely.