Thursday, February 26, 2009

Do You Drive Like a 16 Year-old?

Dear Friends in Safety,

Do you drive like a 16 year-old?

If you are 16, this question should not bother you. You are young. You are a new driver. You are learning. The information that follows can be part of your learning experience behind the wheel. For those of us who have been driving for any amount of time at all, this question invites us to pay attention to the research and examine our own driving behaviors.

In his book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt cites research related to cell phone use by drivers. For example, “Visual-spatial tasks…cause our eyes to fixate longer in one place than when we when we are asked to perform verbal tasks. The longer the fixation, the more attention we are devoting to the task – and the less we are giving to other things, like driving.” (Page 87)

What does this mean for us? It means is that when a driver is talking on a cell phone (a verbal task), it takes away from concentration on the road, and surroundings. In fact, one study noted that drivers talking on cell phones “tend to rigidly lock their eyes ahead.” (Page 88) This mimics the tendency of new drivers (16-17 year-olds) to lock their vision on what is in front of them, such as staying in their lane – an important task – but one which needs to be coupled with the use of peripheral vision. In short, our vision needs to pay attention to everything going on around us. Our brains are not wired to do this when we are talking on the phone (whether hands-free or not). Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking is a myth. Rather, we need to be mono-tasking - paying attention to that one most important thing - driving.

Vanderbilt makes the point, “Having your eyes on the road doesn’t do any good unless your attention is on the road too.” (Page 89) Given this, we can ask and wonder just how many loved ones die as a result of drivers paying attention to tasks that distract them from the real task at hand – driving.

When it comes to honing our driving skills, Keep Kids Alive Drive 25 and other organizations offer many options to plan educational opportunities to help drivers pay attention to the road ahead and the world around them. Included are the following:

May 1st – KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25® Day – visit KKAD25 Day
May 15th - National Walk-Bike to Work Day – visit Walk/Bike to Work
May 1st – 31st – National Youth Traffic Safety Month – visit KKAD25 High School Project and NYTSM.

Each of these observances encourages us to take account of our driving behavior and how it works to help or harm the environment for pedestrians, cyclists, our passengers, and our selves as drivers. The need to “pay attention” behind the wheel is a life or death concern. KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25® exists to support you and your community in responding to these concerns by creating a safe driving, walking, riding environment for every person of every age. If you have not started in your community, then visit to find out what you can do as spring approaches.

“Don’t Let the 2 Minutes You ‘Save’
Be the Last 2 Minutes of Someone’s Life.”
Adapted from David Townsend (Tia’s father)

In safety,
Tom Everson
KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25® - A “For Action” Organization -501(c) (3)

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