For some time now I have wanted to add my two cents to the debate surrounding the use of cell phones while driving. The opportunity presented itself a few days ago when an article appeared on cyberpresse.ca, the on line edition of Montréal’s francophone daily, “La Presse.” I could not resist, I simply had to share with you my thoughts and observations.
The article in question was about the Mayor of Trois-Rivières, Québec, Mr. Lévesque, and his misadventure. Busy reading at the wheel, he drove his car into a stop sign.
When questioned about the incident, or should I say accident, Mr. Lévesque explained that he was reading his budget:” I was reading my budget. This is budget time of the year. You know, as Mayor, when one is driving, one makes a call, one is busy with paperwork, one is preoccupied…. one is thinking all the time, so that’s what happens,” he mentioned.
If you think the example of this gentleman is trivial then, as they say in English, “think twice.”
For some time now I have been writing down notes about driver behaviour while travelling regularly between Montreal and Quebec City. There are different forms of distraction at the wheel; I have restricted myself to those within a vehicle.
What then do drivers do behind the wheel? All sorts of things and more: they drive, obviously, but they make calls too, talk or argue with fellow passengers, smoke, listen to music singing along at the top of their lungs, chew gum, eat, drink hot and cold beverages, do their make-up, look for things in the glove compartment, program the navigational system, talk on their CB radios, read e-mail on their Blackberries, read magazines as well (a true story; for 40 minutes a diver reading a pornographic magazine while headed toward Quebec City on Highway 20),day dream while watching the landscape pass by, watch DVDs (as told to me by a young friend) etc etc.
So if you think telephoning while driving is dangerous, which I do not doubt, you would be surprised (well, not that surprised) about different forms of distraction observed in the “cult” environment we refer to as the automobile.
Many studies confirm the multiplicity of tasks required behind the wheel. The table below was borrowed from the 2003 Nerves of Steel inquiry commissioned by the Canada Safety Council and Steel Alliance. 80% of those polled admitted to multi-tasking while driving.
Other studies on the subject of behind the wheel distraction, including that of the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the Executive Agency of the Department for Transport, updated in September 2007, add “smoking while driving” to the list.
The specific sources of distraction among distracted drivers were, in order of frequency:
According to recent studies by insurance companies, combined with those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), eating while driving is one of the most important sources of distraction. Please check out the Top 10 list of food items one should not eat on the road:
Here is another example of advice given in California about distraction behind the wheel.
The problem is therefore more complex than simply outlawing, or not, the use of phones while driving. Many forms of distraction can divert our attention from the road. We can try to limit certain ones but in daily life we scare ourselves; for example, when we realise suddenly that we have been driving on automatic pilot and have no recollection whatsoever of a part of the route just driven.
Studies on types of distraction at the wheel are becoming more and more numerous and only improve our knowledge of human cognitive power, our capacity to understand and our security on the road.