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News Nov 18, 2019

Focused Driving: Keeping the Most Important Thing, the Most Important Thing

Unfocused drivers put everyone on the road at jeopardy. Read these important topics about recognizing and resisting distractions behind the wheel.

close up of steering wheel with distracted driver

There are a growing number of things to distract drivers from focusing their undivided attention on the road. From driving impaired and driving tired, to eating to using a device, distracted driving is a growing concern. Texting while driving has become a very common form of distracted driving. A well-known statistic is that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Understanding Distracted Driving

In today’s society the ability to multi-task is often valued and seen as a strength. Multi-tasking while operating a motor vehicle doesn’t fall into that category. In fact, according to a white paper by the National Safety Council, a driver’s response to sudden hazards, such as another driver, weather, work zones or animals in the road, can be the critical factor between a crash and a near crash. When the brain has an increased workload, information processing slows down and a driver is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards as quickly as needed. The challenge for drivers is to ignore distractions and focus entirely on driving.

Outcomes of Distracted Driving

One outcome of distracted driving can be wrong-way driving. On average, 300 to 400 fatalities occur each year nationwide from wrong-way freeway crashes. Jacobs’ Principal Transportation Engineer Rich Coakley was the project co-chair for an Illinois Center for Transportation / Illinois Department of Transportation research report (FHWA-ICT-12-010) that identified the factors that contribute to wrong-way crashes and aimed to develop countermeasures to reduce these driving errors and related crashes.

The research showed that impaired drivers, older drivers and inexperienced drivers were most likely to make the errors that led to wrong-way driving. Partial cloverleaf interchanges were probable locations for wrong-way entries to the freeway. Countermeasures such as improved lighting, enhanced pavement marking with raised reflectors on wrong way arrows, oversize signage with redundant messages, lower placements that put signs in line with the vehicle’s headlights and dynamic signs that light up or flash to get the attention of errant drivers all help to reduce the occurrence of wrong way maneuvers,” Rich said.

Experiencing an issue with wrong way driving, employees of several public agencies near San Antonio, Texas, formed a group called the San Antonio Wrong-Way Driver Task Force. The task force has identified counter measures to address the wrong-way driver issue, including enhanced static signing, illuminated signs, on-site driveway channelization (curb barriers) and new detection devices that use radar to alert law enforcement of a wrong-way driver.

Combating Distracted Driving

Employing technology and personal discipline are two of the most important ways to combat distracted driving. One example of technology is in New South Wales, Australia where roadway cameras will soon be monitoring for drivers distracted by their phones. One camera will take an image of the vehicle’s license plate and another camera potentially captures evidence if the driver is holding a phone. Artificial intelligence will play a role in helping sort through the pictures.

When it comes to choosing safe behaviors, we can take simple but effective actions, such as putting phones out of reach, disabling in-vehicle technology to minimize distractions and saving snacks for once we’re off the road. Influencing others by sharing safety messages can also help remind those who share the road how even one distraction can jeopardize safety for drivers, pedestrians and passengers.

To learn more about the laws in your state see distracted driving laws and legislation by state.