By Special to GUIDONJanuary 26, 2017
You've probably heard about the dangers of distracted driving, but you may not have thought that it could impact you -- or that you could be engaged in distracted driving.
The Department of the Defense, U.S. Department of Transportation and other agencies define distracted driving as any activity that diverts a person's attention from the primary task of driving.
Defined activities not only include high-profile risky behaviors like texting or otherwise using a cell phone or smartphone, but also eating, drinking, grooming, reading -- including maps, using navigation systems, watching videos or even adjusting your vehicle's radio, CD player or MP3 player while in motion.
Text messaging is flagged as one of the most dangerous distractions because it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver.
The dangers of distracted driving are real. More than 3,000 people are killed each year, and up to 400,000 are injured in crashes directly attributable to distracted driving, according to statistics from multiple state and federal agencies.
Military installations like Fort Leonard Wood, with large numbers of commuters traveling on and off the installation daily, are especially susceptible.
Although Fort Leonard Wood and some other area municipalities have cellphone restrictions in place for motorists (for example, using a cell phone without a hands-free device can cost you up to $80 in fines and court costs on post), those restrictions disappear once drivers leave the installation or city limits.
Missouri has a ban on texting and driving, but only for "novice drivers" ages 21 and younger.
Since 2010, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has encouraged all employers -- government and civilian alike -- to do their part by prohibiting texting while driving on the job, and declaring all vehicles "text-free zones" to emphasize their commitment to safety.
The DOD helped lead the way in that effort, adopting policies that prohibit all DOD personnel from engaging in text messaging while driving any government-owned vehicle on or off military installations, or using government supplied equipment or personal electronic devices capable of text messaging in any vehicle.
The DOD even discourages the use of hands-free devices, as they can still create significant distractions and hinder safe driving performance.
Multitasking is a myth
Some drivers feel they can get away with driving and texting because it's just another form of "multitasking," but according to the DOD, multitasking is a myth.
The human brain does not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another.
The brain can juggle tasks very rapidly, which leads to the erroneous belief that we are capable of doing two tasks simultaneously.
In reality, the brain is switching attention between tasks and performing only one task at a time.
Unfortunately, inattention, even for a few seconds, can lead and has led to tragedy on the road.
Here are some other facts drivers should keep in mind:
-- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds.
At 55 mph, that's the equivalent of driving blind the length of a football field.
-- Of drivers age 20 and younger who were involved in fatal crashes, 11 percent were reported as being distracted at the time of the crash.
This age group has the largest percentage of distracted drivers, but they are not the only ones: 47 percent of all adults who text say they have sent or read text messages behind the wheel.
-- Drivers in their 20s make up 23 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes, but constitute 27 percent of distracted drivers and 38 percent of distracted drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes.
-- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of drivers text-messaging or otherwise manipulating handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014.
Federal and insurance-industry surveys show the number of drivers engaged in distracted driving is rising each year. In fact, at any given time during daylight hours, more than 660,000 vehicles are being driven by drivers using handheld cell phones.
What can drivers do
The best way to use your cell phone in a vehicle is not to use it at all.
According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, drivers should:
-- Turn off your phone or set it to silent before you get into your vehicle.
-- Place your phone out of reach when you know you'll be driving.
What can employers do
According to OSHA, employers can take several steps in addition to declaring their vehicles "text-free zones" to encourage their workers to avoid distracted driving.
-- Establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties.
-- Set up clear procedures, times and places for drivers' safe use of texting and other technologies for communicating with managers, customers and others.
-- Incorporate safe communications practices into worker orientation and training.
-- Eliminate financial or other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving.
For more information about how to prevent distracted driving, visit:
-- The U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's website, https://safety.army.mil.
-- The U.S. Department of Transportation at www. distraction.gov
-- OSHA at www.OSHA.gov.
(Editor's note: Information also provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Missouri Department of Transportation Southwest District.)