Safety Series: Thinking ahead can help drivers avoid distractions behind the wheel

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distracted safety
distracted safety
There are distracting tasks that are done while driving far too often. A lot of them require a cell phone. (iStock Photo)

Does it take your eyes and/or your mind from the road? If it does, it’s a distraction. Chances are that your day is full of them. Little things, like turning on the radio or adjusting the air conditioning can take your focus away from driving.
If we’re being realistic, many of the tasks done behind the wheel take very little time to do. If you’re familiar with your vehicle, you might be able to turn on windshield wipers or set the cruise control without looking at all. But then there’s the other extreme.
There are tasks that are done while driving far too often. A lot of them require a cell phone. Dialing a phone number or reading or composing a text while driving are unnecessary and stupid. In many states, it’s illegal to even talk on the phone without a hands-free device.
But this isn’t about phones or radios or cruise control. It’s about allowing your focus to go from the road to, well, anything other than driving. That’s a decision that every driver must control, all day, every day. The consequences of diverting your attention from the road for even a few seconds can be devastating.
Most people in the non-metric world think of speed in terms of miles per hour. Thinking of speed in feet per second adds perspective to the distraction issue. You could use a calculator and multiply your speed in mph by 1.46666666666667 to convert to FPS. Or, you could “ballpark” the answer by simply multiplying by 1.5. So, 30 mph is roughly 45 FPS.
At 50 mph, you’re covering the length of most tractor-trailer combinations every second.
At 67 mph, you’ll travel end zone to end zone on a football field in three seconds flat.
If you’re traveling at the speed limit in a 70-mph zone, you’re covering 105 feet each second and nearly a tenth of a mile every five seconds.
How long does it take for conditions in front of your vehicle to completely change? How long does it take to dial a phone number?
So, when you make the decision to dial, you’re really making the decision to travel a few hundred feet without looking at the road. You can apply that logic to anything else you decide to do behind the wheel.
We know that it’s impossible to expect to never be distracted. Sometimes, even traffic distracts us from other traffic. That’s why we’re taught to keep moving our gaze, scanning near and far, right and left, including the mirrors. We can’t control billboards, traffic signs and construction barrels or other things that attract our attention on the road. We do, however, have control over things in our cab. Phones and tablets are obvious distraction items, but what about the ELD? How about the control touchscreen built right into the dash? The GPS? And lunch? Anyone who thinks a driver should never, ever eat while behind the wheel has never kept the schedule of most over-the-road drivers.
Fortunately, you can minimize the distractions you face while driving. For example, by unpacking the burger and fries, putting the straw in the drink and the drink in the holder, all before leaving the parking lot, you’ll minimize the time you’ll be distracted while eating. If something falls to the floor, it stays there until the next stop.
Most phones can be set up so they can be answered with a single button, often one on the side of the phone that your finger naturally finds when you pick it up. Every driver should be using a Bluetooth headset, but even if you aren’t you can minimize the attention needed to answer a call.
With a little thought, most drivers can identify any number of things that can be prepared before putting the truck in motion.
Every carrier has rules about distractions. And, every carrier has a dispatcher or two that expects an instant answer to a satellite message or whatever communication service used. You can get fired for using a cell phone while driving, but your dispatcher wants a call right now? Hopefully, the safety culture at your carrier, if you work for one, extends from the top management of the company down.
The safety culture in your truck, however, is up to you. Too many carriers are spending millions of dollars each year to find qualified drivers to put up with a carrier that preaches safety and practices something else.
Make the safety rules in your truck and stick to them. Somebody’s family might be very glad you did. Maybe yours.

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