Distracted Driving: Something Every Driver Does

Driving is a task that almost everyone takes for granted. Every time we drive, we fail to realize the significance that a split second error in decision making or a slow reaction time can result in serious injuries, permanent disabilities and/or loss of life. "Not me, I'm a good driver with no tickets or crashes. It happens to all those other bad drivers on the road," is commonly said or thought by most drivers.

It is that thinking that minimizes our own careless and negligent behavior behind the wheel. We all do it while, at the same time, thinking that it will never happen to us. We witness and criticize other drivers for their driving misconduct believing that it is never us. Driver distractions contribute significantly to careless and negligent driving behavior that increases crash risk. Recent research is revealing that some of these distractions have a higher crash risk probability than others.

As a driver, anything that diverts your attention from focusing on the driving task physically and/or mentally, presents a risk to you and your passengers or others using the roadway. Any distraction will degrade your driving skills and ability. To think that it doesn't, is arrogant and foolish.

I recently had an opportunity to observe several individuals intensely involved in playing a video game. As these gamers were competing against each other to achieve the highest score, I noticed their intense focus and concentration regarding every movement and action and their ability to react to those things. Suddenly, one of the player's cell phone rang and he looked down to his phone and just as quickly was distracted and his game character was eliminated. His reaction was anger and frustration. When this happens to a driver, the potential damage is not just an eliminated computerized character but the oncoming traffic in the other lane.

Over the past three decades, vehicle manufactures, in response to consumer demands and expectations continue to excel in offering vehicles that are quieter, faster, more responsive and more comfortable for drivers and passengers. In addition to building safer vehicles, they continue to offer more of the creature comforts of home and technology. While all of these things make for a great vehicle compared to those of the past, all that comfort and improved technology (including sound systems, digital screens, etc.) lulls drivers into complacency with driving made increasingly easier.

While there are lots of things that many of us do when we drive that are distractions. Things like: drinking coffee, soda or other beverages; eating; shaving or applying makeup; changing CD's; reading; reaching for items on the floor or behind the seat; trying to control unruly child passengers; answering/talking on a cell phone; and texting or reprogramming a GPS device among others are all, to varying degrees, distracting. The problem is that many of us can identify with driving distracted as a result of multiple incidents involving the activities that I just mentioned without being involved in a crash.

Careless or negligent behavior for a driver yes, but easily dismissed because no negative consequences occurred. With a growing number of drivers who admit to using cell phones (including texting), an increasing number of people that are seriously injured and killed is expected. As the number of crashes that are identified as distracted driving related increases and the number of innocent victims of distracted driver behavior increases, the emphasis to solve this behavior will intensify.

We don't need to look far ahead. With the increasing number of people joining organizations like Focus Driven, along with other initiatives by families of crash victims who have been injured or killed by a distracted driver, all will press for logical and appropriate solutions similar to the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in targeting the drunk driving issue. The solutions will involve public policy, regulation, technology and increasing awareness regarding the consequences of distracted driving.

The next time you drive and observe one of those drivers who is straddling a lane marker, running through a traffic signal, ignoring a light change or weaving their way across the expressway and they are occupied by their cell phone either talking or texting, remember that is also probably you if you do the same.

Hopefully, it won't be too long before we look at drivers who exhibit distracted behavior with the same disdain and condemnation that we see in drunk drivers. It is at that point that most of us will begin to be more critical of our own behavior behind the wheel and make more of an effort to eliminate those driving distractions. No more taking it for granted.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.

And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.