Drivers reminded to beware of distractions

With children soon returning to the classroom, an Auglaize County health official is reminding drivers to be extra cautious and focused on the road.
Citing a report on distracted driving recently released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Auglaize County Medical Director Dr. Juan Torres said too many at the wheel of vehicles are voluntarily diverting their attention by either looking at something else, listening to something else, actively doing something else with their hands, or even thinking about something else while they are driving.
“Distracted driving can be manual, visual, auditory or cognitive,” Torres said.
He said brainpower decreases by 40 percent for those listening to a conversation or the radio while driving.
“As there is more traffic on the roads and more children waiting for buses as school’s starting, drivers need to pay even more attention,” Torres said.
While the impact using a cell phone has on driving is often talked about, Torres said even
using a handsfree device can be worse than a .08 blood alcohol level. Driving with a handheld devise puts someone at four times more risk for an injury causing accident.
“Cell phones lead to the most distractions, but there are other causes, too,” Torres said.
“Eighty percent of drivers do things that have nothing to do with driving when they are driving,” he said.
Torres said other blatantly dangerous activities drivers have reported doing while behind the wheel include changing clothes, steering with a foot, painting nails and shaving.
“Twenty percent of injury crashes are caused by distracted driving and 60 percent of fatalities are related to distracted driving,” Torres said.
“Fatalities involving alcohol are down while those involving distracted driving are up,” he said.
The portion of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of fatal crashes increased from 7 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2009. More than 5,470 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction in 2009.
He said those driving light trucks and motorcycles are the most distracted while bus drivers are the least distracted, according to the survey released this year.
Those under 20-years-old are the most distracted drivers, followed by those 20- to 29-years-old and then those 30- to 39-years-old.
Women drive distracted more than men and the biggest decrease in distractions has been in the West. Midwest numbers of those driving distracted are already lower.
According to the survey, 90 percent of teens said they didn’t drink and drive but nine out of 10 have driven distracted, either by someone else in the car or by using a cell phone.
Torres said people do seem to be getting the message because they are paying more attention to some things, such as using less handheld devices in the car, but there are still other distractions and driving concerns.
“I would encourage still more campaigns against distracted driving, especially texting,” Torres said.
In a related concern, Torres said 1,500 fatalities a year are caused by sleeping and driving, he said.
Forty-one percent of drivers admitted they have fallen asleep or dozed off while driving, according to a AAA study. Eleven percent said they fell asleep or dozed off during the last year, while 4 percent said they had in the last month.
Torres said one of the problems is with drugs such as Ambien, which helps people sleep at night, but the side effects can extend into waking hours. One of those is sleeping while driving without realizing it.
“You have to be careful with pills,” Torres said. “Before driving, test medications for a few days. Not everyone will respond the same.”