I was on a road trip a couple of weeks ago when I drove past a sign that read “Nearly 70% of crashes involve distraction.” My first thought was, “Well, that’s a little distracting.” But that wasn’t my only distraction. If you look at the bottom left of the photo, you’ll see that a police officer had pulled over a driver just ahead of me. Nothing is more distracting than seeing flashing lights. I don’t know what it is, but my heart rate spikes and I feel a rush of adrenaline every time I see those lights. Add sirens to the mix and I’m not sure it’s even safe to drive. Maybe that’s why we pull over for emergency vehicles, just long enough to calm the nerves back to a safe level.
Anyway, I started thinking about distracted driving. I know, I have written about the topic on multiple occasions, one time addressing texting, and other time addressing the most banal of distractions: eating while driving. But, I come back to it regularly because it’s all over the place – in the news, on the radio, on highway billboards, etc.
This time around, I decided to search the top 10 distractions while driving because I knew, I just knew, that texting wasn’t the biggest one, and neither was cell phone use. In fact, my hunch was correct. Cell phone use, including texting, was second on the list, but it was a distant second, and I mean distant, from the elephant in the room. This elephant is so big, I think I need a drum roll, which is not the easiest thing to do in a blog. But just imagine a drum roll for a second while I reveal the number one (over five times more than cell phone use including texting) distraction: daydreaming, or simply not paying attention. There it is. We have all of these campaigns against distracted driving and drowsy driving and drunk driving, which I guess you could call the 3 dangerous D’s of driving, and the biggest culprit of all is simple inattention, lack of focus, or daydreaming.
I’m pretty sure legislators realized really quickly that they couldn’t legislate against daydreaming, so they went after the easier, although less harmful, targets. So it’s up to us to acknowledge, and to fight against, the elephant in the room. Okay, maybe it’s not safe to fight an elephant (unless you have really big guns), but we can at least figure out how to deal with it. I am one of the first to admit that I love daydreaming while driving. It puts me in a Zen state and makes road trips almost as fun as, say, tinkering on a motorcycle. So I make minor accommodations: I allow extra space between my car and the car in front of me; I try to control the car behind me, but that can be a little more challenging; I make sure I’m well rested, especially before a long drive; and I keep an eye out for possible surprises (like the time a driver in the car next to me was falling asleep and kept swerving into my lane). They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, a small dose of self-awareness can tame the very large elephant in the room: we had a hard time focusing before the era of constant electronic communication and stimulation, now we’re in unfocused overdrive.