The number of lives lost in 2012 relating to vehicle accidents was staggering. It seemed every time I turned on the radio or read the news online I heard about another tragic accident on our roadways. The statistics usually don’t come out until much later in the year (or usually the following year) and they generally do not hit most people’s radar. However, there are a couple of exceptions. We already know that Saskatchewan saw 162 people die in traffic accidents over the last year. That is the highest number of traffic fatalities in our history. Nova Scotia also saw a sharp rise in fatalities with 82 which is their highest number since 2007.
So what is going on? Of course there are many factors. Impaired driving is one of them. Canada has a terrible record when it comes to impaired driving. Consider this – Alcohol consumption in Germany is 20% higher than it is in Canada yet our per capita death rate of alcohol related traffic deaths is 5 times higher! To be fair that statistic is from 2008 and some progress has been made in this country but we have a long ways to go yet.
Distracted driving is a hot topic these days as it really needs to be. It is estimated that 8 out of 10 collisions are a result of a driver being distracted. In 2012 distracted driving caused more fatalities than impaired driving in Saskatchewan. Distraction comes in many forms. The most common distractions are:
- adjusting the radio/stereo
- passengers in the car (young children and babies in particular)
- adjusting other controls in the vehicle
- eating or drinking
- personal communication devices
- navigation devices
That’s not a complete list, there are many other distractions that can effect your driving but these are some of the most common.
We all know that the use of cell phones while driving has become a deadly hazard. Texting while driving in particular is a huge concern. Using your phone to make calls isn’t a whole lot better. Many provinces have outlawed the use of hand held phones while driving, yet using your phone hands free is acceptable. It really shouldn’t be. I recently went to a conference where a major car manufacturer spoke about the innovative hands free system in their vehicles. We were treated to fancy infographics and statistics and were actually told that talking on a hands free device made you a better driver! I would have laughed had it not been such a dangerous and inaccurate message to be selling to people. I have searched quite a bit to try and find another source that might indicate that talking on a hands free device is, at the very least, not a dangerous distraction (let alone making you a better driver) and I just can’t find anything that doesn’t say the exact opposite. Communicating with someone that is not in your vehicle, whether you are using a hand held or a hands free device is a dangerous distraction. Period. Talking on any phone while driving makes you four times more likely to be in a collision and is comparable to driving while impaired. It is true that having a conversation with another passenger in your vehicle can be beneficial. It can help to keep you alert, but it’s entirely different than having a conversation with someone on a phone.
Even with laws in place to help curb the use of cell phones (not including hands free) it’s still an epidemic. It’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t encounter another driving texting or using their cell phone in some capacity while behind the wheel. I’m not sure how many people have to lose their lives before we start to take this seriously.
We live in what we perceive to be a fast paced world where multitasking is the norm. The problem is, driving already requires you to multitask. You are in control of a large and potentially deadly piece of machinery, you have to pay attention to what’s ahead, behind and around you, you have to try and anticipate what other drivers are going to do. Throw in other unnecessary distractions and the mix can be fatal.
What can you do to help avoid distractions while driving?
- Plan ahead! Give yourself lots of time to get where you are going and make sure you know where you are going. GPS is great but if you already have a good idea of how to get to your destination following a GPS is far less distracting. If you you are using GPS have it programmed and set to your destination before you set out. If you are traveling with kids prepare everything they may need before hand. I know that’s a tall order, believe me I do but if you know they will need snacks/drink or activities to keep them busy have those ready to go.
- If your phone rings, let it go to voice mail. You can always pull over later and check it. Better yet, turn your phone off while driving so you aren’t tempted to answer if it rings or look at an incoming text.
- The best advice is to not eat or drink while driving but that can be a lot to ask on a long trip. If you are going to eat or drink make sure you have those snacks easily accessible and that they are “easy” to eat (think carrot sticks as opposed to a sloppy sandwich).
- Take breaks during long trips. Getting out to stretch your legs and getting some fresh air can go a long ways to avoid fatigue.
- If you are tired pull over. Driving while fatigued is deadly.
- Make sure your car is operating properly, well maintained and free of clutter.
Being better drivers is something we can all work on and, most certainly, is something we can teach our children. It’s really important to lead by example. They need to know that drinking and driving is absolutely unacceptable and that when you are driving being focused on that job is your number one priority. They need to learn that as passengers now and as drivers later on in life.