Think about the last time you focused on just one activity. Reading the newspaper without a TV on in the background. Taking a walk without listening to your iPod. Attending a meeting without checking your smart phone. If you're like most, it has become hard to avoid multitasking. And while multitasking can make us more productive, it can become a dangerous habit, especially while driving. In fact, 1,060 Americans are injured and nine are killed every day in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.
With the summer travel season kicking off this weekend and millions of Americans preparing to head out on the roads, there's no better time to talk about road safety and the importance of staying focused behind the wheel. Remember, it only takes two seconds of distraction to double your risk of a crash.
Here are a couple key tips to help manage visual, manual, and cognitive distractions behind the wheel. While many of these tips are geared towards long road trips, it is critical to manage distractions every time we drive.
1. Reduce fatigue. According to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drowsy driving is responsible for more than 100,000 crashes a year. More than one-third of drivers admit to having fallen asleep behind the wheel. The AARP Smart Driver Course curriculum recommends these tips to fight fatigue:
- Get a good night's sleep before heading out on a trip.
- Stop at least every 2 hours, or every 100 miles. Just getting out of the car for a quick stretch can refocus you.
- Pull over in a safe area and stop for a 30-minute nap if you are feeling tired.
- Refrain from using cruise control for long stretches. Focusing on maintaining a proper speed will help you concentrate.
2. Review your route before heading out and after every break so you can anticipate upcoming, challenging roadways and not be distracted by consulting your map or GPS while driving. AARP Driver Safety's Driving Resource Center recommends taking into consideration areas that you may want to avoid like busy or confusing intersections, or frequent left turns when planning your route.
3. If you are traveling during a mealtime, schedule in time at a rest stop rather than attempting to eat while driving. You will be able to keep two hands on the wheel, you will avoid the possibility of a spill in the car, and you will give yourself a break to use the facilities as well.
4. Pre-load your favorite CD or preset your top radio stations before you start driving.
5. Keep your phone out of reach. Texting is one of the most dangerous driving distractions because it requires you to take your eyes, hands, and mind off the road. Even talking on a headset or Bluetooth device is dangerous because the conversation takes your mind off the road. I often place my purse and phone in the backseat of my vehicle so that I am not tempted to look at it. If you're traveling with someone, you could also ask him or her to answer text messages or take phone calls for you.
6. Pull over to take in the view. Leisure summertime rides mean beautiful scenery. However, do not be tempted to take in those mountains on the horizon or breathtaking ocean view from behind the steering wheel. Enjoy views from a safe spot on the side of the road rather than trying to look and drive or worse--take photos and drive. Stopping to take in the scenery is another excuse to stretch your legs, too.
7. Secure all pets and never allow a pet to sit on your lap while driving, even if you're the passenger. Not properly restraining your pet cannot only risk injury, but according to AAA, 65 percent of dog-owning drivers admit to being distracted by their pet while driving. AAA estimates that "a 10-pound dog that's not restrained can generate 500 pounds of force in a 50-mph crash."
Whether you are heading out on a long road trip or to a barbeque around the corner, keep these tips in mind to manage distractions and stay safe. For additional tips on safe driving, visit the AARP Driving Resource Center or search for an AARP Smart Driver Course in your area.