All Distractions Are Not Created Equally
Latest article by Phil LaDuke on his blog: www.philladuke.wordpress.com. Phil says:
Distracted driving poses a significant risk, but many organizations are implementing knee-jerk policies to eliminate all possible distractions while driving (an impossible quest that will lead to unenforceable and ridiculous policies). In last week’s (it posted Saturday but I only am getting around to sharing it now) blog post I examine the differences in distractions and the dangers they post. As always, I hope to invite spirited debate.
Phil La Duke
All Distractions Are Not Created Equally by Phil LaDuke
I’m alarmed at how cavalier U.S. drivers have become about risk. I travel via car a lot and have seen some really recklessness on the road. While much of that recklessness is related to driver distraction I am also alarmed at what I see is a knee-jerk reaction to the risks of driver distraction. The use of smart devices while driving, even when using hands-free devices, present a significant risk to driver and pedestrian safety, but it seems like the safety pundits have extrapolated that ALL distractions while driving pose approximately the same risk; and this is just another example of the kind of reactionary thinking that creates unenforceable and irrational policies.
Most People Ignore Smart Device Policies
A recent poll by the National Safety Council found that 70% of respondents admitted that they knowingly violate their companies’ policies regarding the use of smart devices while driving. This is an alarming statistic until you really think about it. Ask yourself have you ever sent a text while waiting at a stop light? Does that constitute texting while driving? I don’t really have a dog in this fight. My company has a policy that forbids the use of smart devices while driving and it is very specific in its wording, so I know that texting at while stopped at a traffic light is forbidden. I follow our policy, but it wasn’t easy at first. I found it irritating and distracting that I couldn’t check my email while stopped at a light, and I was irritated by the time wasted in long drives where, I reasoned, I could get more done if I could just talk on the phone. But my company culture is very strong on this issue and because I was new to organization, the drive to conform was strong. I soon found that complying took a lot of stress out of my day and that my car rides were less stressful.
The Cry Goes Out Against “Other Distractions”
And so the witch hunt against driver distractions begins. What about conversations with passengers? What about gawking at an accident? What about a pretty girl in a short skirt? What about playing with the radio? What about GPSs? What about…just about anything you can think of that can distract you? There are already companies with initiatives underway to ban all driver distraction. With these efforts there is a renewed question in the minds of the organization: are safety professionals naturally soft in the head? It’s a fair question, when people see policies that ban everything from reading a book while driving to changing the station on the car radio it begs the question “how far out of touch is the safety function”?
Driving While Distracted Remains Dangerous
There has been a spate of recent studies that confirm that distracted driving is a serious threat to public safety, and the findings are troubling:
- Studies have shown that driving while distracted is roughly as dangerous as being moderately intoxicated, but this is a dubious finding.
- Further studies have shown little to no difference in driver distraction while using hands-free devices instead of traditional cellular devices
- There are even studies that show that talking to a passenger is as dangerous as being distracted by phone use while driving.
- Finally there are studies that find that numerous other distractions pose significant risk—from the use of global positioning systems to fighting children.
So if we combine these findings we essentially conclude that driving with any amount of distraction is as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol use. Unfortunately, this conclusion is completely wrong, and here’s why:
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