Keeping both hands on the steering wheel at all times is one of the basic principles of driving; however, activities such as eating, using a cell phone and even texting have emerged as major distractions for some motorists.
These distractions can interrupt the driver’s concentration and result in dangerous incidents for the driver and other road users. And, according to a study by the Mona GeoInformatics Institute, based at The University of the West Indies, Jamaica, during the ten-year period 2000 to 2010, more than 63,000 crashes in Jamaica were due to driver related causes.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States of America (USA) show that in 2009, more than 5,400 persons died and some 448,000 were injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver.
Duane Ellis, General Manager of the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA), says that while the causes of distracted driving may vary, “The impact of distraction on driver behaviour is the same across all age groups.”
He explained that the focus on distracted driving is part of the over-arching objective of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020 Campaign, in which the JAA is a local affiliate. Pillar four of the programme seeks to improve road user behaviour.
“Some drivers believe it is skilful to be able to do as many other things as possible while driving; however, manual distractions such as taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive distractions, such as day-dreaming, can have serious consequences,” he affirmed.
Mr. Ellis noted that the use of a cell phone while driving is of particular concern, as this restricts the driver’s ability to handle the vehicle correctly, especially in an emergency situation, or as simple as negotiating a pot hole on the road surface.
“A hands free device is the only way that a driver can decrease the distraction caused by talking on a cell phone and still adequately control their vehicle,” he added.
Mr. Ellis further stated that the increased use of cell phone messaging services has contributed to an increase in the number of drivers who will risk texting and driving at the same time.
“This activity is particularly dangerous because it fully engages the individual and is a cognitive, manual and visual distraction, which completely disrupts the driver’s attention to the road and awareness of the environment,” he pointed out.
His advice to motorists is that, “If it is absolutely necessary to use a cell phone, drivers should pull over from the flow of traffic, and stop in a safe place to use the phone.”
“For all other activities not directly related to operating the motor vehicle, such as eating, applying makeup, drinking or using any other equipment, drivers should do them either before or after driving,” Mr. Ellis maintained.