The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
Distractions can be visual, manual, and/or cognitive, and they can have serious repercussions on innocent lives. Distracted driving, according to NHTSA, claimed 3,166 lives in 2017.
We in the school transportation industry put safety first and foremost in our training, activities, and efforts to transport children to and from school every day. Reminding all drivers on the road of the effects of distractions — created by themselves or other motorists — while driving is critical to ensuring that continued safety.
In December 2018, a truck driver was approaching railroad tracks in Marshall County, Ind. He pulled a sweatshirt and fleece jacket over his head and briefly took his eyes off the road. When he looked back, he realized he was about to rear end a school bus, which was stopped at those railroad tracks. He braked hard and tried to swerve to avoid the bus. He was unsuccessful in avoiding impact, however, and due to his distracted driving, a child in the school bus was killed in the ensuing accident.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash when reaching for an object. In addition, as a frame of reference, NHTSA recognizes that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds, while traveling at 55 miles per hour, is akin to driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed. Although the driver’s speed was not the issue, his distraction clearly was, and by taking his eyes off the road, he put numerous lives at risk.
Distractions also come in neighborhoods and in perhaps unforeseen ways. A recent investigation by ProPublica into Amazon’s delivery practices, for instance, identified more than 60 accidents since June 2015 resulting in serious injuries and 10 deaths in which Amazon delivery contractors were involved.
Amazon, working through contractors across the country, requires a very high on-time delivery rate by its drivers in its efforts to meet customer demands for expedited shipping. Following accidents, however, the e-commerce giant argues it bears no legal responsibility as its drivers are contractors. In response to the ProPublica investigation, Amazon responded, “The assertions do not provide an accurate representation of Amazon’s commitment to safety and all the measures we take to ensure millions of packages are delivered to customers without incident.” Delivery trucks can be seen in neighborhoods every day across the country. Are the drivers paying attention to those around them, or are they distracted by the demands of their job? It’s a fair question, but unfortunately, the answer continually varies.
We are a much busier society than ever before. Everything happens in real time and we are primed to receive immediate notice of every development, be it in the news, on social media or via text. Each notice of these important-to-us events is a potential distraction behind the wheel. Eating breakfast or removing a jacket can and has put lives in danger. No one is immune and no one is above the laws designed to protect and ensure safety to everyone on the road.
Here are some ways you can help encourage greater attention behind the wheel:
- Work with your school resource officer to ensure the parents and caregivers in the schools you serve are aware of the dangers of distractions while driving.
- Share the Safety Media Toolkit found at schoolbusfacts.com with your schools, PTAs, and PTOs.
- Encourage the schools you serve to adopt no-phone policies for motorists waiting to pick up their children.
- Ensure your drivers are familiar with your policy on cell phone usage.
- Remind drivers that distractions can come in many forms and maintaining full attention on driving is paramount.