It’s December and we’re all talking about Christmas, family lunches, parties and the importance of enjoying each other’s company after a long year.
I want to talk about how you can drive yourself to distraction such that there is a high risk that you, a loved one or a total stranger might not get to the family or other Christmas party because of a single moment of inattention. Latest stats I saw, showed that the driver represented less than half of the people killed or injured where driver distraction was a factor.
Here are some ways that people have been killed or seriously injured and many of these things happen every day. And watch the short videos at the end. You might find them entertaining, but I guarantee a lot of people didn’t see the funny side.
- Being tired or fatigued. What happens when you are fatigued, come to a green light at a controlled intersection and just haven’t got the reaction time to react to the guy who runs the red light and T-Bones you.
- Holding a phone to your ear and driving with one hand. I’ve said it before, we humans can’t multi-task (one of my colleagues said except women:). My wife was sitting at a red light at an Auckland motorway off ramp. She turned her head when she heard the screech of brakes. She was craning her neck to see what was coming and saw the van driver, one hand on his phone and one on the steering wheel, with not enough hands to avoid slamming straight into her. She could see the horror in her eyes. Then she dealt with the whiplash, headaches and pain for about 2 years after. He apologised….
- Eating hot food and dropping it on your lap. Many Kiwis will have memories of wearing shorts and dropping the guts out of a steaming hot meat pie or a coffee on their lap while driving. Do you remember the feeling of the burn on your skin and did you stay calmly focused on the road ahead?
- When I was commuting on the motorway (I now use arterials, every day I saw people eating cereal, yoghurt and other foods while driving. The good news is the fender benders tend not to be very bad, but I have a couple of questions. If one hand is on the bowl and another is manipulating the spoon, how many hands do you have left to control the car? Of course if this is during peak time it’s just as likely that the minor nose to tail will involve not only 4 or 5 vehicles, but delay thousands of people from getting to work because of the consequent congestion. How would you like to put your hand up and go on TV news that night and say “sorry for making you all late for work and causing 10’s of thousands of dollars in damage, but I was hungry.”?
- Putting on make-up. Tell me you haven’t seen them. One hand on the compact, one on the applicator and looking into the visor mirror. I would never do it, but I’ve certainly been tempted to suddenly brake, or slam on my horn while they are applying their lippy. Of course if they crash then it would be my fault, so I just do it in my imagination while focus on the road ahead:)
- Changing the track or station on the car entertainment system or your mobile. This week I’ve heard 3 people mention Spotify, changing tacks, liking and saving them, adding them to a list, looking for an album or going to the artist radio to name a few of the things you can do. Our entertainment systems are becoming more and more feature packed because that’s what customers want. By all means let your passengers be entertained, but your job is to get yourself and them to their destinations safely. It’s also interesting reading the 2016 Ministry of Transport statistics that show the number of people injured or killed in accidents where driver distraction was not a factor and who either weren’t the driver or in many cases weren’t even in the vehicle!
- An appropriate etiquette that most of us have been trained to do is to look at the person you are speaking to. This is very important in a normal conversation, but unless the conversation is to die for, forget convention and keep the conversation simple. Want to have a deep and meaningful, pull over and have a coffee or save it till later.
- Reaching for something. The girl described in the video from the book One Split Second, died when her (probably very good driver) reached over for a napkin. She came from a very close family and was on her way home from university for Thanksgiving. Imagine that Thanksgiving weekend. A totally innocuous little action that most people wouldn’t think twice about took a life and changed lives irrevocably.
- Talking on a handsfree phone. You’re saying, “but I have both hands on the phone.” True, but at least half of your attention is on that phone call. You may be a good driver, but what if the person cutting a corner coming in the opposite direction isn’t. Perhaps they are from another country where they are driving on the wrong side of the road. On Friday I was on a road trip and watched the driver and passenger in a campervan both pointing at the large screen nav unit on their dash. How much of the driver’s attention was on the vehicle he had rented and wasn’t used to driving?
- Ever had to turn around to control children or pets? If it’s serious, pull over and stop the car. If not, leave it.
- Being emotionally upset or angry. Ever thought of how many people who are extremely angry or upset go for a drive? Whether they drop the lead foot and screech away or simply drive off through a haze of tears, focussed on the unfairness of the world, how prepared are they for the unexpected? Remember a lot of crashes don’t happen because of something you were doing, but because you couldn’t respond to something else that happened on the road in time. We don’t want to make a bad or sad situation worse.
- One I hadn’t thought about as much, but is common, is looking at scenery, as someone mentioned to me on Monday, summer has arrived and people are wearing more revealing clothes which causes distraction for urban drivers and in waterfront areas or holiday resorts. You don’t want to be that idiot who crashes their car in front of an attractive person they couldn’t keep their eyes off. This doesn’t exactly present you in the light of one of the more advanced of the species.
- Rubbernecking. I thought I’d leave this for last. You make up your own mind if these people were distracted or not. So many people are killed, injured or spend a lot of money at the panelbeater, simply because what was happening on the other side of the road stopped them from paying attention to their own side of the road.
I wish you all a safe and Merry Christmas. I hope that you will think about these things and talk to others about it. As I mentioned in a previous blog, a British survey identified that 2 million British people, sitting next to a driver holding a phone and talking on it would say nothing. I was stunned. Is that you? Is that phone call worth your life?