April is distracted driver awareness month. Yes, it's a real thing, and with good reason.

Consider these statistics for the United States:

  • Over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year
  • An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled
  • Over 1,600 children under the age of 15 die each year
  • Nearly 8,000 people are killed in crashes involving drivers aged 16 to 20

And if that wasn't bad enough, we're trending in the wrong direction. 2015 saw 6% more driving accidents than 2014. 40,000 people were killed in crashes in 2017 alone.

Those are alarming statistics. But the thing with statistics is that they don't register as they should. We think of them as figures, but these aren't just numbers. I know that first hand. One of the 40,000 people who lost their lives in 2017 was a member of my family. My wife's sister was struck by an SUV while riding her bike to the gym early one morning.

Her life represents so much more than a number.

Multitasking Is Not Your Friend While Driving

People engage in a surprising amount of activities while driving. They eat, text, talk on the phone, apply makeup, and even use a laptop. Don't underestimate how creative people can get when it comes to finding ways to use their driving time to catch up on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and email.

I once spoke with a good friend who told me that he regularly drove while using his laptop. He would steer with his knees to free up his hands. At least, that's what he did until the day a car stopped abruptly in front of him and he almost ended up occupying its trunk space. It scared him straight and he gave up on his mobile office.

You might feel safe going hands-free. "I'm smart," you say, "I use Bluetooth and keep my phone out of my hand."

Unfortunately, we don't seem to drive any safer hands-free than we do with a phone in hand. Hands-free is not risk-free, but it can give you a false sense of security.

To drive safely, you need the essential driving trio:

  1. Eyes on the road
  2. Hands on the wheel
  3. Mind on driving

Multitasking simply doesn't work; we can’t focus on two things at the same time. People driving while talking on the phone can miss up to 50% of their driving environment, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Our brains have trouble shifting focus. One recent study by AAA found that people can remain distracted for 27 seconds after sending a voice text. Philosophers have long told us that “Where your attention is, is where you are.” It’s scary to think about our body driving a car while our mind is somewhere else.

High-tech dashboards and cell phones compete for our attention, and all we need to give it is one second to change a life forever. One second of distraction while driving is all it takes.

Cell Phone Policy

Do you have an employee cell phone policy? If you don’t have one and an employee is in an accident involving driving for work while using a phone, you could be held liable.

Employers are responsible for identifying hazards and keeping employees safe. Phones and steering wheels are a dangerous combination. Put a policy in place that bans the use of cellphones while operating any motor vehicle – even hands-free (for related reading, see Distraction, Fatigue, and Impairment: What Any Safety Professional Can Do).

Have employees put up their phones while at work. With the exception of emergencies, it's usually better to stay focused on the work at hand and keep the phone put away and out of sight.

A behavioral study dubbed “the iPhone effect” observed how the quality of social interactions significantly declined when a mobile device was in sight. Empathy and listening ability was lowered. If we have trouble focusing on a conversation while a phone is present, how much attention can we give driving while using a phone?

We are easily distracted by much of the technology we interact with (smart watches, phones, dashboard screens). When

you add driving to the combination, things turn deadly.

Just Drive

“Just Drive” is the official slogan for Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I like it. We now have a reason to unplug from the matrix, the constant stream of information, and enjoy being in the moment. We can concentrate on the road ahead and keep an eye out for the drivers around us – who are most likely multitasking.

Unless we take action, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.

We need to turn this trend around.

Keep your eyes on the road and remember, it only takes one second of distracted driving for an accident to happen.

My wife’s sister is more than just a number. Her name was Kathy, and we miss her.

Just drive.