Dealing with Driving Distractions

I continue my discussion of driving safely with the following about distractions:

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver distraction is a factor in 80 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.

The list of distractions in an automobile is long and continues to grow. The bottom line here is that we just have to pay closer attention to our number one responsibility behind the wheel: driving safely. Here are some tips to help achieve that objective.

Focus On The Task At Hand

- Start with the basics and drive defensively. Make it your goal to have a "perfect" trip.

- Don't turn your head to talk or look at scenery or another person.

- Don't fool with the radio or other nonessential equipment when the road is busy. When driving in unfa­miliar areas, turn off the radio for maximum concentration.

- Personal grooming and reading are obvious no-no's.

- Experts say we eat one in ten restaurant meals in our automobile, often while weaving through traffic. Don't eat or drink while you drive.

- If you don't know exactly where you're going, get directions before you leave.

- If you need to look at a map or reach into your purse or briefcase, pull over. The same applies to dealing with troublesome children.

- Do not engage in stressful or emotional conversations that may be distracting.

- Illness is a distraction. When you're sick, your reflexes are slower than normal and your senses may be fogged. Consider staying home until you are alert.

- Read the labels on medications and talk to the pharmacist. Many medications such as antihistamines can make you dizzy or drowsy.

The Rolling Phone Booth

Using a cell phone while driving is a leading cause of driver inattention.

- Learn and follow all local and state laws. When you travel, review local requirements.

- Learn how to operate your phone without looking at it.

- Never take notes or look up phone numbers while driving. Use a small tape recorder to take notes.

- Keep conversations brief so you can concentrate on your driving.

- A cell phone should only be used when it is absolutely necessary. The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association offers these safety tips for cell phone users:

- Take the time to become familiar with the features of your phone such as speed dial and redial.

- Position your phone so you can reach it while maintaining a proper view of the road and all mirrors.

- Dial while the vehicle is stopped. If you absolutely must dial in light traffic, dial a few numbers, check traffic, and continue dialing when it's safe. Or, have a passenger dial for you.

- If you place a call while moving, stay in the lane reserved for slower traffic.

- Use Speed Dialing for frequently dialed numbers.

- Always assess the traffic situation before receiving calls. Allow voice mail to answer the phone when it's unsafe to speak, e.g., heavy traffic or bad weather.

- Let the person you are speaking to know you are driving. If neces­sary, suspend conversations during hazardous driving conditions or situations.

- The National Safety Council rec­ommends not using a cell phone at stoplights. You may notice cars moving in the next lane, but your light could still be red.

- Hearing impaired drivers should pull over to use the phone. Too much of your attention will be diverted to deciphering the sounds.