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Cell phones aren't the only things that cause distracted driving

By for CAES News

Have you ever arrived at your destination and realized you don’t remember driving there? You arrived safely, but you were on autopilot. Your mind was on the grocery list or tasks for the day. Maybe you were putting on your makeup.

Unfortunately, I have driven myself and my family while on autopilot more than I care to admit. Many of us have heard about the dangers of texting and driving and have stopped, and if you haven’t, then shame on you. But what about distracted driving? 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.” 

Just think about the number of decisions you must make at a moment’s notice when driving: stopping to get over in enough time, turning, watching out for other drivers, etc. Add that to external factors, such as road construction and distracted driving, and you begin to realize the risks of driving without focus.

According to the NHTSA, “Taking your eyes off the road for five seconds at 55 miles per hour is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.” Startling, but most of us have glanced at the GPS, grabbed our phone, reprimanded a child or even had a heated conversation, all while driving.  

As my dear aunt would say, “Let’s get to the nitty gritty.” We cannot drive safely unless we are fully focused on driving. Any activity that hinders our focus is a potential distraction and increases the risk of an accident.

I am committed to stop distracted driving and hope that you will be as well. Here are a few tips to get us all safely to our destinations:

  • Use Bluetooth and hands-free devices scarcely, particularly if you are like me and still have to glance at something to activate it. (Remember the five-second analogy?)
  • Save important talks until later. Some conversations, particularly those that may be upsetting, should be postponed until you are not driving. 
  • Get everything done before you begin driving. This includes setting up your GPS and Bluetooth, selecting music and applying makeup.
  • Silence notifications. It’s human nature to respond to notifications from our phones. Trust me, whatever it is, it can wait.
  • Slow down. Generally, I don’t drive fast, but if I feel the pressure of arriving somewhere late, I tend to speed up. It doesn’t matter how late you are as long as you arrive safely.

Ask your passengers for help. My daughter began to ask me, “What are you trying to do, Momma?” I would tell her and she would get the task done while I focused on driving. Now, I use her often to navigate with GPS, make calls and complete other tasks that would take my focus away from driving.  

Stay focused and drive safely, Georgia!

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.
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