So I’ve been reading the book by Vijay Dixit about how his daughter died in a car crash on a long straight road, on her way home to her family from college. The driver was simply looking for a napkin. Not doing drugs, not playing games, just a simple thing all of us who drive have probably done many times. Shreya Dixit was cut out of the car, helicoptered to the nearest hospital where she died shortly after arrival.
A Police spokesperson from City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota in the video said that in 80% of crashes, distraction often of less than 3 seconds was a factor.
The book doesn’t just talk about their experience and loss, but also how they found help to deal with the grief and how they turned that into a mission, a foundation which talks to children at schools, helps people who either were the driver that killed someone, or the victims.
There is so much new evidence out now about our ability to focus and multi-task. When we first learned to drive, we were taught to monitor the road in all directions looking for cars pulling out, looking for animals crossing the road or kids getting off a school bus. We had to be really focused and it made sense. As years go on our children don’t see things quite the same way, or they have an overestimated belief of their ability to multitask. I have family members who in the past used to think it was nothing, sending a text message on a quiet stretch of road.
But as the book describes, you have one or both hands on the phone, you are thinking about what you are going to write, you start keying it in and then you are thinking about the response. Your brain deals with all of these things in a linear fashion. It is very capable, but it completes a task and replays or ponders on it before starting on the next one. Our limbic brain (I’m sure someone will tell me if I got that wrong) has muscle memory and can perform basic tasks while we do these things like keeping the car on the road. But should a baby pram suddenly race down a driveway, or a kid chasing his football, while you are sending a text message and driving at 40 miles and hour and their chances of getting away are slim.
The book outlines many of the things that we do and I’m going to share a few. Using the concept of ‘Workload rating’ which is effectively about how much of your brain power is used during certain activities. A rating of one means your m ind is already fully occupied. This was researched and compiled by David Strayer a Cognitive Neuroscientist at the University of Utah.
- Single passenger driving. 1 x WR (workload rating), i.e fully occupied in order to drive safely and be ready for that car coming round the corner on the wrong side of the road, the red light runner, or someone just reaching into their pocket to get and light a cigarette, or perhaps spilled their hot coffee or for the Kiwis and Aussies, a very hot meat pie on their lap.
- Changing the station on your radio is 1.21. Not too risky, but take in-car entertainment systems, the music on your Smartphone, a service like Spottily (which I use in my car a lot of the time) and other systems where you might be searching for an artist or scrolling to find your favorite song. That is way more than 1.21 isn’t it?
- Listening to an audio book on Tape, CD or podcast. I do this a lot too. I listen to all sorts of leadership, special interest and educational podcasts. I’ve done this ever since they first came out on tape. After all with today’s traffic congestion, I spend around 500 hours a year going to the office or the airport every year. That’s 12 and a half working days! That comes to 1.75 working units, because I’m not only listening to the book, I’m cogitating, looking at ways that I can use the knowledge I’m gaining, perhaps leadership skills or more specialized topics. The more complex, the more thought you need. I suffer from cancer fatigue so I have learned not to listen to anything like this when I’m driving home from work, because the risk is too high that I could be oblivious to the Harley Davidson’s lane splitting on each side of the car, or the guy next to me who s swerving because he is chasing Pokemon at the wheel.
- The next one might surprise you and that is talking to the passenger in the car next to you. The passenger is looking at me (generally trying to look at my eyes, while I’m driving and I feel rude f I don’t periodically look back. That comes in at 2.33.
- Using a handheld cell phone is rated at 2.45. That’s pretty obvious. Remember though we are talking about mental focus requirements here. This isn’t about the fact that you have one or maybe one and a half hands on the steering wheel. It is the focus you are placing on the phone call. Ever noticed when someone was talking on the phone and you ask them a question, they possibly don’t even hear you. When you are on the phone your brain is working hard. You are thinking about the implications of the call, maybe your wife with things she wants you to pick up on the way home, your boss talking about work matters, someone telling you about their relationship problems. You are now putting way more energy into the phone than you are on the drive. Next time you are engaged in a phone call (not while driving!) see if you can monitor what else you are doing. Do your eyes roll up to the top right hand corner, around 2 o’clock, you’re listening, you may be problem solving, trying to think of ways to help someone, you might be engrossed in a funny story or some family gossip, or worse, perhaps hearing about a family accident or illness or other bad news.
- Hands Free Phone. I stopped using mine, mostly for the reasons above. It was better than Siri. If I tell it to call home or my wife, it does that, rather than Siri that tends to make a phone call to a random number when I ask it to set a reminder or save a memo, which I have also stopped doing. So a hands-free phone is still 2.27 working units, only slightly better than holding the phone. I now don’t make or answer calls in the car unless there is an urgent reason, such as having just driven past a serous car accident that hasn’t been attended by emergency services, but I’m not in a position, perhaps i the wrong lane, to stop.
- Speech to text is really interesting and at a high of 3.06. I guess it is because you really have to concentrate on listening because often the voice is not well developed or in an accent you are not familiar with. I trialed an email speech to text solution which seemed like a great way to cut down the workload before I got to the office. The problem was that I had to tell it whether to save the message or archive it. The problem was that many of my emails are complex in nature and therefore require a lot of concentration. Sure I’m not reading, but I am certainly taking a lot of attention off my driving.
The list can go on, but I think the points are well made. We don’t intentionally put ourselves at risk (unless we are at that adolescent pubescent age where nature has decided that it wants us to take risks). Statistics show that adolescents are pretty good drivers on their own, but get their mates in the car and they are 50% more likely to have a accident. Adults also have more crashes when they have passengers, which links back to item 4. above. The conversation. You could potentially reduce that risk, simply by saying, I don’t want to be rude and am enjoying your company and the conversation, but want to keep my eyes on the road.
Most mornings when I drive to work I see people eating their yogurt, shaving, putting on their lippy, looking up and down at their lap (yeah right, must be very interesting) or overtly using their mobiles, having a great chinwag with their passengers, customers, reaching for something in their glove-box or that they dropped on the floor and so much more.
The fact is we have all done or do so many things like this and we have all, I’m sure, had close misses either caused by ourselves, or by another motorist. We call them accidents, but are they really?
Read the book and the testimony including from some people who through their distraction have effectively killed someone, often a family member or their best friend. We see those stories on the news pretty much every day. The book A Split Second which I am reading on my Kindle is well written and has cleared up a lot of misnomers for me and is changing my behavior with some reluctance I may add.
I live in New Zealand and we have many crashes where people were either fatigued or distracted. A lot of our roads are narrow and winding, with hills where there is very little visibility of cars, trucks, stray animals or even flocks of sheep or cattle, where Shreya Dixit died on a long straight road. It’s the end of the school holidays and a lot of Kiwis are heading home with cars full of tired grumpy children (it rained just about right through the whole 2 weeks) and bored kids on road trips can be very distracting for the driver as any parent knows.
Chances are someone in New Zealand will die due to distracted or fatigued (which causes distraction) driving this weekend. US statistics from last year say that this weekend 18 people WILL DIE due to driver distraction. Imagine if that was one of your loved ones, your child, your brother or sister, one or both of your parents. How will you get over that, will you ever get over that? If you are the person who died, how do you think your family and close friends will cope with it?
Again I commend the book to you, it will surprise, shock and please you. It should change your life and I’m sure will save many people’s lives.
Don’t become a statistic, drive safe, be patient, be alert. If you need to make a phone call or something else, stop, or let a passenger deal with it. No phone call or text is worth your life.
As always I welcome comments.