101 Critical Days of Summer <br> Safety office offers advice to avoid driving distractions

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Driving could be so much more enjoyable were it not for the need to stay on the road by turning the steering wheel. Think about it -- you could talk on the phone, text, read to your children on the way to daycare, apply a little lip gloss, maybe ice that cake for the surprise birthday party you're late for. But, alas, brains still need to communicate with eyeballs via the optic nerve to detect the curvature of the road ahead. Then, an appropriate response must be formulated and executed with a sequence of electrical impulses to turn the steering wheel.

All of the above activities, except perhaps the icing of cakes, are things many people do while simultaneously driving their car. The competing demands placed on the human brain creates what is known as distracted driving.

"In our business, we try to keep something that's high risk from changing over to dangerous," said Virgil Mitchell, 81st Training Wing safety chief. "Anytime we get into an automobile, it's high risk. So what we want to do is place ourselves as an operator of the vehicle in a position where we're not being dangerous. We do that by not doing the wrong things."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2009, 5,474 people were killed and an additional 448,000 were injured in distracted driving-related crashes.

In light of those statistics, Mr. Mitchell offers a brief rundown of some of the things to avoid while driving -- not in any particular order.

He mentioned talking to other passengers, talking to kids, talking on the phone, yelling at other drivers, texting, playing with the radio, eating, drinking, watching a movie, enjoying the scenery, reading the newspaper, putting on makeup and shaving. And don't forget the "other" category reserved for pretty much anything you can think of -- like the 37-year-old woman who crashed her car last year in the Florida Keys while waxing her bikini line. Yes, that's right, bikini waxing.

Cell phone use and texting have received a lot of attention recently as some of the biggest distractions for drivers.

But, according to Mr. Mitchell, they're not. Road rage is the No. 1 distraction for men. For women, having their children in the car is the biggest distraction. Still, he points out that cell phone use and texting while driving is dangerous. Henotes that nearly 30 percent of all vehicle accidents are caused by distractions related to cell phone use. Additionally, for nearly 10 minutes after your cell phone conversation ends, your chances of having an accident increase nine times because you are still thinking about the conversation.

Fortunately for Keesler, Mr. Mitchell notes that drivers have been pretty safe.

"We've had a very low accident rate given the population," said Mr. Mitchell. "I think it has to do with our education and awareness programs. The secret to our success has been getting the word out to the supervisors."

Everybody who comes on base at Keesler and is planning to stay more than 30 days is required to go through local orientation and watch a video that informs drivers about local laws and area driving conditions to familiarize them with local roads and highways.

Mr. Mitchell also credits unit safety representatives with whom he meets every quarter to discuss current safety and traffic conditions and potential hazards. As information on roadwork or changes to traffic patterns becomes known, Mr. Mitchell passes it on to his unit safety representatives and suggests alternate routes they might want to consider.

In an effort to maintain a safe driving record, Mr. Mitchell and the safety office offers some tips to minimize distractions and stay focused.
  • Minimize multitasking as much as possible. Texting, flipping between radio stations, reading or other activities reduce your focus on driving and inevitably increases your likelihood of being involved in an accident.
  • Place potential distracters like newspapers, magazines and day planners in the trunk until you get to your destination.
  • Plan your route before driving to your destination.
  • Do all of your personal grooming prior to getting into the vehicle.
  • Don't eat or drink in the vehicle.
  • Avoid engaging in complex or emotional conversations on the cell phone or with a passenger.
  • Always look both ways before exiting a parking space or crossing a traffic lane. It's not uncommon for two vehicles to simultaneously back up in adjacent stalls.
  • Always maintain situational awareness of the actions of other drivers.
For more information on distracted driving, visit www.distraction.gov.