SOMERVILLE, NJ – At the halfway mark of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano, North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, President of the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police and Somerset County Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano are reminding motorists of all ages who travel the roads of the following dangers of driving while distracted.

The effects of distracted driving can range from someone simply missing an exit right up to missing a red light and causing a crash that takes the life of an innocent person. Every driver owes it to themselves and others to understand why it is so risky and dangerous to drive distracted. Distracted driving can be caused by any activity in which a driver engages, other than driving. When you begin your morning commute it doesn’t take very long before you might notice someone eating, drinking, grooming, reading or using an electronic communications device. If you are one of those drivers who engages in this type of activity it doesn’t matter what the conduct is, the effects are the same. When we are driving and we choose to multitask in some activity other than driving it can impair us in three different ways.

·         Visually; by taking our eyes off the road to look at what we are doing other than the task of driving.

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·         Mechanically; by taking our hands off the steering wheel to pick up and look at the item or device.

·         The third way and perhaps the most significant is the impairment to our cognitive ability.

 

When we take our eyes off the road while driving we miss the things that are happening around us. Several studies show that between 4-6 seconds pass during the time that we respond to the phone alert, pick it up and look at it to see who is calling or what the message is. During that time we are driving “blindfolded”, we are still moving forward and even at a speed of 25 miles an hour we cover 183 feet in 5 seconds.

If we remove one hand from the steering wheel we drastically reduce our ability to safely control the vehicle in the event of an emergency. We also risk not safely controlling the vehicle during normal operation. A left hand on the wheel by itself with reduced attention to the roadway in front of us could cause a drift to the left into an oncoming lane and an approaching vehicle or perhaps off the road entirely striking a fixed object.  

The human brain can only focus on one task at a time. When we focus on one thing, everything else becomes secondary. If we are “simply” involved in a conversation with someone on a hands free device, we are listening to what is being said, thinking about what we just heard, formulating our reply and then saying it. During that time, the task of driving becomes secondary and hazards that present themselves might not be identified as hazards and we fail to avoid them. It is this cognitive impairment that is the most dangerous. The video, The Distracted Mind, put out by Toyota explains it very simply. To see the video go to http://www.sctddd.org/the-distracted-mind/

Try this experiment. Turn on your television to the news. Focus on a story being reported and at the same time try to listen to a conversation that is going on elsewhere in the house. You may be able to catch a piece of the news and a portion of the conversation but you will be unable to get every detail of both stories. Similarly, try reading a book or newspaper article while have a conversation with someone. Either you are not going to hear what is being said or you are going to stop reading. You can’t do both.

Studies have shown that having a hands free conversation with someone while driving slows a person’s reaction time to the equivalent of having a 0.08 % Blood Alcohol Content, the legal limit for intoxicated driving in the State of New Jersey.  Other studies have clearly demonstrated that the degree of measurable eye movements (scanning) that a driver normally does while driving is markedly diminished while that driver is actively engaged in a hands-free phone conversation. As in the other scenarios, this form of tunnel vision dangerously reduces a driver’s ability to perceive a hazard in a timely manner and react appropriately to that hazard.

Safe driving is all about making good choices.  As drivers each one of us can choose not engage in risky driving behaviors. We can decide to buckle up, not to drive impaired and when it comes to distracted driving we must find a way to minimize and/or eliminate as many distractions as possible.

Choose…not to reach for the phone when it alerts you!  If the temptation is too great, choose…to turn the phone off while you are driving. If you don’t feel comfortable turning the phone off, you can download an app on your smartphone that makes the phone safe while the vehicle is being operated. Should you need to make or answer a call or read/send a text, pull off the road and park before doing so. The few minutes it adds to your trip just might spare you a lifetime of regret.

 

For more information please visit www.distraction.gov