The Basic Principles of Safe-Driving Habits

By Brian Morris, MD

When I talk to patients about their driving habits, I usually see one of those knowing head nods. We all know that safe driving habits are crucial in this day and age. We also know that the quality of driving has been declining for years and there are many reasons for this. The 24-hour news and life cycle has taken multitasking to a whole new level. Some choose to text during many different activities: while having dinner, crossing the street, and even when driving.

Some individuals have forgotten that texting requires a proper place and time to stay safe. It used to be that the music on the radio and a conversation with a passenger were the main distractions in a car. However, with the advent of smartphones, tablets, GPS gadgets and a host of other items, the list of distractions has grown exponentially. I remember as a child watching my father try to control my brother and me while he drove down the highway and marveling at how much he was able to do while he drove. However, that was nothing compared to today. Today I see people drinking coffee, applying makeup, texting their friends, listening to the radio, getting directions on the GPS, and checking Facebook all while trying to calm down their children in the back seat. A recent study by the Governors Highway Safety Association looked at 350 scientific papers and found that about 20% of all car accidents are linked to smartphone usage. That is close to one in five accidents! That statistic is staggering but true.

Here are some other statistics to think about:

  • Texting while driving makes a driver 23 times more likely to crash.
  • 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving is 6 times more likely to cause an accident than drunk driving.
  • Drivers talking on a cell phone are 4 times more likely to have a car accident.
  • Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.

Here are some statistics about teen drivers:

  • 15 to 19 year-olds make up the largest proportion of distracted drivers.
  • 11 teens die each day due to texting while driving.
  • 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones.

Many of these accidents cause serious injuries and sometimes even deaths. It is vitally important that people get back to simply focusing on driving. I see some experts recommending hands-free devices, but the truth is that studies have generally shown that hands-free devices still pose some risks. It appears that the primary hazard of using a phone while driving is the loss of focus and attention that speaking on the phone creates. This risk isn’t completely eliminated even when using a hands-free device.

My proposal is that you get a bit old-fashioned when it comes to driving. Don’t speak on the phone while you drive. Don’t use a smartphone or tablet while you drive. If an emergency call comes in or needs to be made, pull over to a safe location. Never text or email while you drive. Don’t eat or drink anything while you drive. Focus on keeping your family, your friends, and yourself safe. You don’t need to be connected to electronics all the time. Prior generations somehow survived without all of this technology, so we can go short periods of time without it as well. In fact before around 1990, most people had to use a pay phone to make a call when away from home. Imagine that.

 Make it a priority to not use your smartphone or tablet while you drive. Focus on getting to your destination safe and sound.