Employee & Community Health

Distractions + driving don't mix

4/6/2017 by Dr. Natalie Gentile

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Every day in the United States, more than eight people die in crashes involving a distracted driver and nearly 1,200 are injured. Overall, nearly 10% of fatal crashes are attributed to distracted driving. 

While the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "distracted driving" is texting, it also includes activities such as using a cell phone, eating, putting on make-up, fiddling with the radio, listening to an audio book or trying to follow the directions of a navigation system. 

But texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction: 

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving

If you think texting isn't dangerous, keep in mind that if you're driving 55 mph, typing the average text takes as long as it takes your car to cover the length of a football field. And it's not just young drivers who text and drive. Nearly one in three U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported in a 2011 survey that they had read or sent a text or email while driving at least once within the past 30 days. 

But drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. A 2013 survey by the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that: 

  • More than two out of five students sent a text or email while driving during the past 30 days. 
  • Those who text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who's been drinking.
  • Students who frequently text while driving are more likely to ride with a drinking driver than students who don't text as often while driving. 

With prom and graduation seasons right around the corner, it's the perfect time to talk with your teens about distracted driving - particularly texting - and set some rules, if you haven't already. Don't make your discussion threatening, but DO explain the "whys" and show them the statistics. An excellent resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) distracted driving website

The best way to educate your kids about safe driving is by example. If you're on the phone or texting while driving, they'll think it's normal. Here are other steps you can take: 

  • Always stay focused when driving. 
  • Speak out if the driver in your car is distracted
  • Encourage your friends and family to designate their cars a "no-phone" zone when driving. 
  • Know the laws in your state pertaining to teens. Many have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws that include cell phones and texting bans for young drivers. 
  • Set ground rules for when teens are behind the wheel. These can include: 
    • No phone within reach; put it in the back seat or trunk before driving. 
    • No other kids in the car for x-number of months after getting a license; set a limit for the number of kids in the car. 
    • Stop and pull over before calling; wait to call until you get to your destination. 

A moment's distraction can lead to death and injury, not only for the driver, but also for others. By modeling safe driving and setting rules, you can help protect your teens. 

Dr. Natalie Gentile is a third-year Family Medicine resident in Employee and Community Health (ECH).