Traffic Safety: Driving While Distracted or Drowsy

By Intermountain Trauma Managers Group

Motor vehicle accidents are the second-most common cause of traumatic injuries in Utah. Here's what you need to know.

traffic Safety

There are many behaviors that lead to traffic accidents and serious injury. Two of the most common are driving while distracted or drowsy.

Distracted Driving –   The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines this as: any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. They list the following activities as distractions that not only endanger the driver, but also passengers and bystanders. They include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player

Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is considered the most dangerous distraction.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 421,000 people across the United States were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. At any given time in the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving!

Who are the most Serious Offenders?  According to NHTSA, our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are at the most risk, with 16% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under the age of 20.

DID YOU KNOW- in May 2014 Utah enacted one of the country’s toughest laws regarding cell phone use

It BANS:

  • Manipulating a cellphone or portable electronic device by hand while driving, including texting, dialing a phone number or changing music. For all drivers (*Primary law)
  • Ban on cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers, who are under the age of 18 (Primary law, passed in 2009)
  • Primary law means that a police officer can ticket drivers for this specific offense without another type of traffic violation being committed.

It will still ALLOW:

  • Talking on a hand-held cellphone.
  • Manipulating a device if a car is not moving, such as at a stoplight.
  • Using GPS on an electronic device for directions.
  • Manipulating in-dash electronics.

Prevention Saves Lives:  What Can You Do?

  1. Take the pledge to drive phone-free and turn your cell phone off when driving.
  2. Do not engage in grooming, eating and drinking, reading, watching a video or other device while driving.
  3. Do not turn around to talk to children in the back seat

Drowsy Driving

Many of the Motor vehicle crashes we see occur because of drowsy drivers.

Most people are aware of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, but many do not know that drowsiness also impairs judgment, performance and reaction times just like alcohol and drugs. Studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08, the legal limit in all states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police reported crashes each year are caused primarily by drowsy driving and that such crashes result in more than 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Drowsy Driving – Who is Most at Risk?

According to the Drowsy Driver Organization, Anyone who drives is at risk of falling asleep at the wheel, but some groups of people are more at risk than others. They include:

  • Young drivers – Combining inexperience with sleepiness and a tendency to drive at night puts young people at risk, especially males aged 16-25 years.
  • Shift workers and people working long hours – People who work night shifts, rotating shifts, double shifts or work more than one job have a six-fold increase in drowsy  driving crashes.
  • Commercial drivers – Those who drive a high number of miles and drive at night are at significantly higher risk for fall-asleep crashes. Commercial drivers have also been found to be at a high risk for sleep disorders.
  • People with untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) –People with untreated OSA are up to seven times more likely to have a drowsy driving crash. For some people insomnia can increase fatigue.
  • Business travelers – Frequent travelers who may be suffering from jet lag and crossing time zones, spending long hours behind the wheel or getting too little sleep.

Prevention Saves Lives - What Can You Do?

According to the Drowsy Driving organization:

DON’T

  • Drive if you are tired or on medication that may cause drowsiness.(Check medication labels and speak to your doctor)
  • Rely on the radio, an open window or other tricks to keep you awake
  • Drive at times when you would normally be sleeping
  • Drink even a small amount of alcohol, especially if you are sleepy

DO

  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long drive
  • Get off the road if you notice any of the warning signs of fatigue
  • Take a nap – find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap
  • Consume caffeine – the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours, but DO NOT rely on it for long periods
  • Try consuming caffeine before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both
  • Drive with a friend. A passenger who remains awake can help watch for signs of fatigue in the driver and can take a turn driving, if necessary
  • Always wear your seat belt