Avoiding Distracted Driving

Avoiding Distracted Driving

By Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate, and Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate

Despite the fact that a car traveling 55 mph will cover the equivalent length of a football field in 5 seconds, many drivers mistakenly believe that they can safely take their eyes off the road for seconds at a time. Not surprisingly, given this shared misperception among so many, every seven minutes in the U.S. a pedestrian is injured by a distracted driver, and every two hours distracted driving leads to a pedestrian fatality.

Beyond the inestimable human tragedy that accompanies every one of these accidents, the financial burden of crash-related expenses can often be overwhelming. When a distracted driving crash occurs, it costs the employer on average $72,442. (SaferRoads 2022)

By definition, distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the task of safe driving, including talking or texting on the phone, eating or drinking, talking to people in the vehicle, or simply fiddling with the entertainment consul, the stereo, or the navigation system. In short, one cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has the person’s full attention. Any non-driving activity the driver engages in is thus a potential distraction that increases their risk of crashing and/or colliding with a pedestrian.

There are three main types of distractions. The first is the manual distraction. This is when you are doing something while driving that causes you to let go of the wheel. Examples include eating or drinking, reaching for something, or changing the radio station/engaging the entertainment console.

The second is the visual distraction. This is when you take your eyes off the road and in this way fail to focus fully on the act of driving. Examples include staring too long at dashboard gauges, looking at students or passengers in the mirror, looking at yourself in the mirror, looking at maps or GPS settings, or just simply staring at the scenery.

The third is associated with mental distractions. This is when your mind wanders to something other than the act of driving. Examples involve such cognitive acts as creating a to-do list, rehashing a conversation, getting angry at other drivers, paying too much attention to the students in the vehicle, or simply daydreaming. 

What can be done to prevent these and others kinds of distracted driving? Listed below are a number of easily adopted steps and techniques:

  1. Prepare for your trip before you go. Have an idea where you are going so that you do not need to rely heavily on maps and/or the GPS. And if you do get lost or become decidedly uncertain about your directions, pull over and take time to recalculate.
  2. Set the GPS (if using one) and select the radio station, if listening to one; then, most importantly, either turn your phone off or put it out of reach (there are apps that, when you are driving, will keep the phone from ringing or beeping in calls, emails, and texts).
  3. Secure loose items so that they are not falling or moving around while you are driving. (If the item is secured, you are less likely to reach for it; and if it is not moving, it should not be distracting.) If you do need to reach for an item in the vehicle, always pull over first before doing so.
  4. Before putting the car in drive, buckle your seatbelt, and make necessary pre-driving adjustments, including to your seat, the interior temperature, and, if necessary, the mirrors.
  5. Once driving, keep both hands on the wheel whenever possible.
  6. Avoid eating while driving; and, if you are drinking a beverage, pull over and stop before taking a sip.
  7. Grooming in the mirrors while driving is dangerous and should be avoided.
  8. If you find your mind wandering, take a deep breath and refocus.
  9. Avoid angry driving.
  10. While working with students, if you need to engage in a conversation, explain that you need to be brief because you are focusing on driving and you will continue the conversation when you stop next or reach your destination. If something needs immediate attention, pull over and address it.
  11. If you have gauges that indicate problems that require immediate attention, pull over. Do not try to problem solve while driving.
  12. Never text and drive (every district should have policies and procedures about cell phone use and driving).
  13. If you are tired or fatigued, pull over; and if you feel you are about to fall asleep, you should not be driving.
  14. Take breaks. These are good for preventing distracted driving and for your health.

Many new vehicles now have safety features to assist drivers. A steering wheel that vibrates when one is drifting into the other lane or an indicator that tells the driver to break are examples of these types of vehicle enhancements, as is another increasingly common feature that indicates lane drifting, speed changes, and other possible signs of erratic, inattentive driving commonly associated with driver fatigue.

MSGIA offers several SafeSchools online classes that can greatly reduce the likelihood of an accident. Distracted Driving and Defensive Driving are two of the classes staff can take to help them drive safely while performing district duties. Also, if your staff drive district vans, we highly recommend they take Van Safety and 15-Passenger Van Safety.

MSGIA’s goal is to help staff drive safely for their sake and the sake of our students. For additional information about preventing distracted driving or assistance in accessing the Safe Schools classes, please contact us at hcheff@mtsba.org or asatterly@mtbsa.orgReturn to newsletter