The risk of distracted driving

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

By: Erik Johnson, MD

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Motor vehicle accidents continue to plague our country’s streets and highways. Tragically, these collisions affect young people more frequently than older drivers, and can result in permanent injuries, disability and even death. With the use of cell phones becoming so common, we have all heard ads recently warning us of the dangers of text messaging while driving. However, this article from The New England Journal of Medicine highlights several important points about any form of “distracted driving,” which includes dialing a phone, eating, reaching for an object, and sending or receiving text messages.


The risk of distracted driving


In this study, researchers from Virginia installed cameras and GPS into the cars of volunteers. They followed these people for a period of roughly 1 year, allowing them to drive normally. They collected information on their driving habits and recorded events when a crash or near-crash occurred. The two groups of volunteers were “new drivers” with an average age of 16, and “experienced drivers” with an average age of 36. They found that any activity that takes your eyes and attention off the road had a significant risk of getting into an accident. Dialing a phone, reaching for a phone, sending or receiving text messages, looking at a roadside object, and eating all was associated with a crash or near-crash. The risks were higher in younger drivers, but older drivers had a high risk of an accident when they were distracted too.


This article confirms what we all would assume to be true, and it goes back to the basics of “Drivers Ed.” We are all so used to being in our cars, and cars have become so comfortable, that it is easy to forget that we are traveling at 65 miles per hour and even a little mistake can have huge consequences. The risks are not limited to just “Don’t text and drive,” because receiving a text message and even looking at the side of the road too long can cause an accident. Hopefully, this information will remind us all that driving requires our full attention.

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