The Cost of Taking Your Eyes Off The Road

Distracted driving, when looking at the risk of an accident, is the same as driving while intoxicated at the legal blood alcohol limit of .08. (Photo by NET)
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February 21, 2014 - 6:30am

Distracted driving is an important concern affecting safety on the road.  It's one of the key elements of a package of vehicle safety legislation introduced this session in the Nebraska Legislature. 

Just about anywhere you go these days, whether on foot, in a car or at the airport, you'll see people with a phone in their hand.

Phone are convenient.  Sometime they are annoying.  Occasionally their presence contributes to dangerous situations.

"There are a lot of things you shouldn’t be doing while you’re driving," said Joseph Brown, a clinical psychologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  "Talking on a cell phone happens to be one we do a lot and is particularly dangerous.

"Convincing people to give up this thing that they really like doing is going to be really hard, but it really is a serious public safety issue," Brown added.

Brown says this is a safety issue because we all have a problem concentrating on two things at the same time.  He says everything the brain does uses something he calls "mental gasoline."

Photo by NET

Nebraska has a texting ban for all drivers, but is one of just four states with it as a secondary offense.

"There is a limited amount of resource that we typically call attention or attentional capacity.  And you only have so much of it," Brown said.  "So the more different things you’re doing, the less of this gasoline is available for each of those tasks, which makes you slower and more prone to errors."

What this comes down to is multitasking.  Something many people feel they do well. 

"You can switch back and forth between tasks and appear to be doing them fine," Brown said.  "But what you’re doing is more slowly and more error-prone, but you’ve got this additional tax you’re paying for switching back and forth between the two tasks.

"These misses of objects, this inattentional blindness can happen when the object is right on the fovea, which is the—right in the middle of your visual field.  It’s not an eye problem.  It’s a brain problem," Brown said.

In the average time it takes to read or send a text, four-and-a-half seconds, a vehicle travels nearly 300 feet at 45 miles per hour.  That's the length of a football field.  But in that short time span, serious injury or death can result when a driver does not react to possible dangers.

"She’s the kind of person who would be your friend instantly," said Rob Reynolds, sharing what happened to his daughter Cady. Reynolds was giving a presentation to Norfolk High School students. 

"This was the worst day of my life because Cady’s my daughter and I can't tell you how wrong it feels that the fact that she's dead is just because someone wasn't paying attention," Reynolds said.

Cady was 16 years old and an Omaha Marian High School student who dreamed of becoming a doctor and working in under-served areas.  Those dreams stopped when someone else didn't at a red light in west Omaha.

"This was another 16-year-old who was severely distracted.  She went through the red light as if it didn’t exist," Brown told the students.  "Cady's car came out and the impact happened almost instantaneously from what we understand and as you can imagine, it was devastating.  It was the front bumper of that car impacting with Katy’s head.

"And so when something like that happens, the car always wins.  And Cady's body lived for about four hours after that.  And she died on the 31st of May in 2007," Brown said.

Reynolds does this awareness work on behalf of two organizations:  The Car Alliance for Safer Teen Driving and Focus-Driven.

He says distracted driving is no different than what society has determined is an unsafe blood alcohol level.

"If you are point-08 you are four times the risk of crashing, if you are talking on the cell phone you are four times the risk of crashing, if you are texting you are about 20 times the risk of crashing.  Those two things are the same but we treat them so differently," Reynolds said.

Reynolds says drunk driving and distracted driving are similar in another way.  Drivers can make a choice not to do either.  Pointing out the similarities of the two behaviors is the simple message Reynolds hopes will lead drivers to make the safer choice.

Editor's Note:  The NET Television program "dstrctd drvng" can be seen on NET1 Friday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m. CT.  You can find additional air times for the program and more information on distracted driving at this NET website.



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