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Avoid distracted driving, on road and farm

By Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbiltiy program

Distracted driving can lead to catastrophe even for experienced drivers. Photo by Kent McGuire.

Most Ohio farmers multi-task to increase productivity. Loading seed while re-fueling and planning the next day’s activities while waiting for the livestock water trough to fill are typical examples.

We tend to see this as a way to make more efficient use of our time. However, there is one place where trying to do two (or more!) things at the same time can have disastrous consequences, and that is behind the wheel of a car, truck or equipment. Any time a person drives a motor vehicle or equipment and engages in any activity that takes attention away from the job of driving, it is considered distracted

driving.

There are three main types of distraction recognized by the U.S. Department of

Transportation:

1) Visual Distraction — taking your eyes off the road

2) Manual — taking you hands off the steering wheel

3) Cognitive — taking your mind and attention away from driving

These classifications are not mutually exclusive, and any one activity (say, reaching for something or speaking to a passenger) can involve all three. The growing role of driver distraction in roadway accidents is now a central concern.

In 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 5,870 fatalities and an estimated 515,000 injuries from crashes in which at least one type of distraction was mentioned on the police report. For the same year in Ohio, there were 270,389 reported crashes, of which 9,976 were attributed to “Driver Inattention.” Twenty of those crashes were fatal.

In 2006, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) conducted the first long-range naturalistic study of driver distraction. For two years they monitored the behavior of 241 drivers of both cars and trucks over 43,000 hours of driving more than 2 million miles. Several follow-up studies, and 6 million vehicle miles later, the results from this on-going project have made it clear that distracted driving is a major contributor to roadway crashes.

According to the 2009 VTTI report, distracted driving was responsible for 80% of

all accidents occurring in subject vehicles, and the primary source of driver inattention was a wireless device.

The National Safety Council estimates that 28% of crashes in 2008 were due to handheld and hands-free cell phone use and texting.

How dangerous is it? While driving a car, dialing a cell phone made the risk of crash or near-crash event 2.8 times as high as non-distracted driving; talking or listening to a cell phone made it 1.3 times as high; and reaching for an object such as an electronic device increased the risk 1.4 times.

While driving heavy vehicles or trucks, dialing a cell phone made the risk of crash or near-crash event 6 times as high as nondistracted driving; talking or listening to a cell phone doubled the risk; and using or reaching for an electronic device increased risk almost 7 times. And worst of all, text messaging was 23 times riskier!

Driving is a visual task that requires undivided attention. Any activity that compromises that significantly compromises safety.

The solution

The combination of crash statistics and long-range studies has resulted in a consensus that something should be done. Surveys conducted by the wireless industry, insurance groups and safety researchers all point to broad support of some type of ban — either on cell-phone usage or texting. The general public obviously recognizes the problem.

Ohio has no statewide ban on cellphone usage while driving, but the state does allow localities to create and enforce their own laws. This has opened the door for many local governments to consider ordinances making it illegal to text or talk on a cell-phone while driving. Supporters of such laws say it is needed to save lives.

Detractors say that banning such activities is too harsh, and that enforcement is too difficult and too time-consuming. The ideal and most far-reaching solution is a change in driving behavior, not just on roads, but also in farm fields. In many cases operating heavy equipment involves sharing the road with other drivers, and offroad driving has its own set of dangers such as rough terrain, natural obstacles and typically involves long hours with repetitive movements, which can lead to fatigue or complacency. Add to that the potential for driver distractions and it can be a recipe for a disaster with an outcome of equipment damage, injury or even fatality.

Make the decision that getting behind the wheel means to drive — not to text or answer the cell phone or eat — and make the effort to avoid distractions. If you have to talk or text, stop in a safe place, perform the task at hand and then redirect your attention to driving.

There have been many stories, from Ohio and around the country, of loved ones lost or injured because of a driver’s failure to keep eyes, hands and attention on the most important task in our multi-tasking society — arriving at a destination safely.

Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbiltiy program coordinator / OSU Ag Safety and Health, can be reached at mcguire.225@osu.edu or 614-292-0588. Theresa Calip contributed to this column, which is provided by the Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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