Distractions? What distractions?

Have you ever argued over the difference between hands free and hands on cell phone use? How about the difference between talking to a passenger and using a cell? There is an incorrect perception that hands free cell phone use while driving is okay and it’s getting even more skewed by the introduction of various In Vehicle Information Systems (IVIS) now being put into cars. Data coming from the University of Utah is showing a frightening twist to the argument over what is distracting and by how much.

For their study, Dr. Strayer and his team developed a five point scale of driver distraction with a one being just plain driving and a five being OMG stupid distraction levels. It’s worth noting that the distractions are primarily cognitive in nature which means they involve using our mind for tasks other than driving while trying to drive.

A few highlights of the study show some really big flaws in common perceptions of what’s safe behind the wheel.

Talking to a passenger, talking on a hand held cell, and talking on a hands free cell phone are all at virtually the same significant levels of distraction. In defense of talking with an adult passenger, they will likely share the monitoring load and are able to provide some additional warnings so the effective distraction may not be quite so high.

It’s when one of the In Vehicle Information Systems is used that you get some really distressing results. The study simulated a perfect system that never made mistakes so it was much better than real life. In spite of that, they still got results showing the use of IVIS was highly distracting and could even reach the level of maximum distraction.

Even worse, being distracted can persist for up to 27 seconds before a driver returns to full driving attention. Imagine pulling over and arguing with your GPS system and then returning to traffic immediately. Even though you stopped during use of the system you are still not fully in driving mode when you first return to traffic. If you didn’t pull over to use the device, how far could you travel in 27 seconds plus the time it takes to program your system, especially one that is not laboratory perfect?

The short answer is we must all look at how we use electronic devices when driving and keep in mind that what’s legal may not be good practice. That means we need good, clear policy on device use that is well communicated to our workers and enforced. If you need an example you can start with the one on our resources page. Just be sure to edit it so it reflects your situation.

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Earl has more than 20 years of road experience. He started with long haul and later swapped the transportation of packages for people. Working as a professional bus driver driving intercity and charter buses, his favourite destination was Reno, NV. Moving into the position of driver instructor was a natural progression that he enjoyed for the challenges it provided.

Earl has a Diploma of Technology in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) from the BC Institute of Technology and is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). He is responsible for providing OHS advisory services to companies, developing the SafetyDriven OHS programs and curriculum, as well as research regarding health and safety in the trucking industry.

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  • Hi-Earl Gavin you are 100% correct, as a victim in January 2013 I was walking on the sidewalk and a “distracted” driver jumped the walk and hit me from the rear. Three years later I am still recuperating from cognitive and physical challenges. I covered the transportation Industry from Professional driver-Class 1 driver instructor-Class 8 truck sales-Commercial accident Investigation-Fleet Management. The province of BC. is slow in implementing a serious fine and possibility of temporary loss of License due to obvious “Lobbying” by manufacturers of these devices. A lady recently had accumulated “14” offenses before charged! I would appreciate your response to my statement regarding devices.