DISTRACTED DRIVING IS AN EPIDEMIC THAT IS SWEEPING THROUGH OUR COUNTRY

Millions of people text , talk or e-mail on their cell phones while driving—a recent survey finds that 71 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 49 admit they text or talk on the phone while they drive. If you think you can call, text and drive at the same time, you cannot. That message you can’t wait to send could kill.

Distracted driving is an epidemic that is sweeping through our country, claiming lives and destroying families.
Cell phones may be convenient but there’s one place they seem to do more harm than good and that’s behind the steering wheel. Psychological research is showing that when drivers use cell phones, whether hand-held or hands-off, their attention to the road drops and driving skills become even worse than if they had too much to drink. Epidemiological research has found that cellphone use is associated with a fourfold increase in the odds of getting into an accident a risk comparable to that of driving with blood alcohol at the legal limit.

In Kenya we give a lot of attention to drinking and driving as the main cause of road accidents but conversing on cell phones while driving an automobile is a common practice which has caused major catastrophic effects, five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 60km/hr, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded. Driving automobiles is often perceived as a fluid nearly automatic process, and drivers often engage in secondary activities while driving although some peripheral tasks are rapid and require only momentary shifts in attention from the primary driving task , other secondary activities may require more time and effort, and can lead to prolonged periods of divided attention.

With the proliferation of mobile devices and people’s desire to remain connected, talking on the phone, reviewing email, and even composing email messages and texting while driving have become common place. The cognitive, visual, and physical demands of such tasks can compromise the primary task of driving. Users may often overestimate their ability to divide their attention with secondary tasks because of the sense that driving is near automatic in many situations and can thus be safely shared with other tasks. However, it may be difficult to switch full attention back to driving in a timely manner so as to observe and respond appropriately when driving challenges arise, and such attention challenges can have costly consequences.
Using phones during driving has been shown to have catastrophic effects. For example, drivers on phones have slower braking reaction time, have impaired steering control and are more likely to have an accident. Moreover no value of hands-free phones has been found, debunking beliefs that removing the need to physically hold phones reduces distraction during driving. These reinforce the hypothesis that cognitive demands of multitasking play a more important role in distracting drivers than manual manipulation. Cell phone use while driving can also increase the risk of collisions. From observation and told experiences by many “the risk of a collision is four times higher when using a cell phone than when a cell phone is not being used”. I found this to be true in my own experience, one day when I was driving in rush hour traffic I got side swiped by another driver who was on her phone and not paying any attention to the road, she side swiped me on the side of my car at my blind spot so unfortunately I couldn’t see the collision coming. Driving and using a cell phone device can’t be done simultaneously.
As a result of the increased dangers there should be strong movements and government bodies like NTSA that seek to eliminate cell phone use while driving. With or without legislation, it’s important to raise drivers’ consciousness about the dangers of distraction.
First and most obviously, drivers can make themselves, their passengers and other people on the road safer by putting down their cell phones. The standard advice is park in a safe place to make or take calls; at the very least, pull over to the curb or a highway shoulder if phone communication is truly urgent.
Second, drivers should also be aware that whether a cell phone is hands-on or hands-free makes no difference in terms of mental distraction. According to the research, the mental activity of conversation, whether in person or over the phone, is what takes one’s mind off the road. What happens in the head happens regardless of what happens with the hands.
Third, drivers tempted to talk on the mobile might ask themselves if they would drive drunk. If not, they should put down the phone.
Fourth, drivers can pay attention to the nature of distraction in the car – with heightened awareness that new devices aimed at a better driving “experience” can have unintended side effects. Multitasking in or out of the car has been shown in many psychological experiments to divide attention and limit working memory – both essential to safe driving. Especially in the car, drivers should aim for the thoughtful use of any new devices or gadgets.
Finally, drivers need to remember that warnings about cell-phones and driving are prompted by cross-sectional studies of drivers of varied ages, educational levels, and years of driving. Susceptibility to distraction while driving has nothing to do with smarts or skill. In fact, psychologist Durso and his doctoral student Andy Dattel point out that although experts can do many things automatically, detecting hazards is not among them. Thus, Durso says, “anything that disrupts resource management can have consequences even in experts.” Let us all as Kenyans apply no texting while driving pledge: “One text or call could wreck it all”

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