On November 30, 2010, a 41-year-old Lapeer, Michigan man broadsided a vehicle in Lapeer County, killing a 78-year-old woman. On March 9, 2011, the Lapeer man was charged with causing death while texting and driving, the first such case of its kind in Michigan. The state trouper who investigated the accident said that texting was a contributing factor to the accident because the offending driver failed to stop at the stop sign.
Texting while driving, as in the Lapeer accident, is only one form of distracted driving that can cause serious injury or death. Many sources of distracted driving tend to be located within a vehicle, including talking with passengers, phone use (including texting), and focusing on other technology, such as an ipod, cd changer or radio. Simply reaching down to pick up an item from the floor or observing the actions of passengers in the vehicle are distractions.
So what does distracted driving mean?
There are three principle types of distracted driving:
1. Visual – taking your eyes off the road
2. Manual – removing your hands from the steering wheel
3. Cognitive – loss of focus, attention to the task of driving
Distracted driving has become such a serious, life-threatening practice that the U.S. government has created a website, distraction.gov, to disseminate information and issue warnings about this dangerous practice. While many states (including Michigan) have adopted laws that ban the practice of texting while driving, cell phone use, with some restrictions for younger drivers, is still permitted.
When driving while using a cell phone, a driver is distracted by each of the types of distractions listed above. The driver is manually distracted when picking up the phone to operate it, leaving one hand on the wheel. The driver is visually distracted when looking away from the roadway to dial a number or accept a call. Lastly, the driver is cognitively distracted because he/she is thinking about something other than driving and may miss audible or visual cues to avoid a crash. Even hand-free devices are cognitively distracting and will degrade a driver’s performance.
The reasons for distracted driving are numerous. Many people rely on cell phones or Blackberrys as a primary source of communication and feel the need to be in contact at all times, even when driving. Distracted driving can involve children or pets that can visually, manually and cognitively distract a driver. Stressful jobs and busy lifestyles are contributing factors to distracted driving.
The key to safe driving is to be vigilant when behind the wheel and avoid, unless it’s a true emergency, using a cell phone. For your own safety and the safety of others, pull off the road if you need to talk, take care of children or pets or rearrange items in your vehicle.