Keep your mind on your driving

What does putting on mascara, drinking coffee, reading a book and driving have in common? Absolutely nothing - that is the problem. These activities take a driver’s eyes and attention away from the road and driving. Accidents happen in a flash, and inattention is one of the biggest causes of vehicle crashes that result in injury and death.

Washington County experienced a total of 687 crashes in 2003. Over 10 percent of those were from driver inattention or distraction and, during that year, cell phone use was not yet included as one of the reasons for inattention. Cell phones are a growing factor in crashes and driver inattention is the most frequently cited pre-crash condition for drivers who use cell phones.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, 70 percent of respondents found cell phone use to be the same or more distracting than tuning a car radio. The main problem is that drivers are not necessarily aware of their driving performance when engrossed in a call. When concentrating on a conversation, it is very difficult to concentrate on driving.

There is a new law in Minnesota which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2006, that prohibits learners permit holders and provisional drivers, such as teenage farm workers, from using cell phones while driving. According to Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, "It is not knock against them, it’s just that when drivers are first formulating their driving experience, it is best that their attention be focused on learning the rules of the road.

"What it comes down to is that younger drivers are easily distracted."

While researchers have had difficulty producing a direct link between cell phone use and accidents, a number of studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving does slow down reaction times, making it comparable to those of drunk drivers.

Inattentive driving is the leading cause o injury crashes in Minnesota and is the second highest cause for fatal crashes. Since most fatal crashes occur during daylight hours, on good roads and during good weather conditions, drivers’ minds are not always on the task at hand - driving.

Over 500 people in Minnesota are killed every year in traffic crashes and the Safe Communities Coalition of Washington County is looking for ways to prevent them. Some suggestions to prevent crashes due to inattention are obvious: put makeup on at home, read the map before driving and pull off the road to eat. Other ideas that may be helpful include using a hands-free phone, memory dial or voice activation dialing.

In the words of the popular pop song of the ‘60’s, "keep you mind on your driving, keep your hands on the wheel, keep your eyes on the road ahead." This means, put down the coffee, stay off the cell phone, quit looking at the kids in the back seat and leave the radio alone.

For more information about safe driving, go to www.dps.mn.us/ots.

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