Cell phones, GPS navigation systems, Kindles… those are just a few of the types of devices on the market that have contributed to the increase in car accidents in Bellingham and beyond. Our vehicles have become a place to catch up with friends and work while sitting in traffic, stopped at a light, or barrelling down the highway. All these activities are illegal, and the list of devices that cause distraction to drivers is ever growing.

When people are asked to list modern device-oriented activities that distract drivers, they usually think of emailing, texting or making phone calls while driving. They also think that using a hands free device keeps drivers free of distraction, and the relatively new Washington State law supports that. While it’s true that drivers can be cited for violating the law even if they’re holding their phone, a hands free device doesn’t mean distraction free driving

What activities distract drivers? The list is longer than you might think. Perhaps you can add to it.

  • Have a phone conversation – handheld, hands-free, or via Bluetooth
  • Text or send Snapchats
  • Use voice-to-text features in my vehicle’s dashboard system
  • Update Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo or other social media
  • Check or send emails
  • Take selfies or film videos
  • Input destinations into GPS (while the vehicle is in motion)
  • Adjust the controls on a car’s entertainment system
  • Listening to music so loudly a driver can’t hear

Erie Insurance conducted a study recently that determined the specific activities drivers were participating in at the time of a fatal car accident. They ranked the most distracting activities. The results may surprise you:

  • Generally distracted or “lost in thought” (daydreaming)… 62%
  • Cell phone use (talking, listening, dialing, texting)… 12%
  • Outside person, object or event, such as rubbernecking… 7%
  • Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car)… 5%
  • Using or reaching for device brought into vehicle, such as navigational device, headphones… 2%
  • Eating or drinking… 2%
  • Adjusting audio or climate controls… 2%
  • Using other device/controls integral to vehicle, such as adjusting rear view mirrors, seats, or using OEM navigation system… 1%
  • Moving object in vehicle, such as pet or insect… 1%
  • Smoking related (includes smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in ashtray)… 1%

Just daydreaming is enough to create distraction from driving. Essentially, every time the driver’s brain is involved a task that differs from driving the car, the driver is distracted. The brain can only focus on one type of activity at a time, and switches back and forth quickly between competing tasks. For example, driving and talking to a passenger are both cognitive tasks. There will be a pause in activity as the brain switches from conversation to driving. That pause can create a lag in reaction time that can cause a crash and destroy lives.

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