We’ve all done it. Sneaked a peek at an incoming text while driving. Punched in a quick reply with one hand on the wheel—our eyes dancing from screen to road as we hurry our message along as quickly as we hurry home. It’s no big deal, right? Just one text?
Well, you probably know the answer already. Just one text is enough to take a life. And it’s not just texting and driving, it’s all forms of distracted driving: talking on the cell phone, styling your hair, searching for your favorite track in your Greatest Hits playlist. But because text messaging requires your visual, manual, and cognitive attention, it’s the most serious risk. On average, a single text draws your attention for five seconds. That means at 55 mph you’ve travelled the length of a football field without seeing the road.
For this year’s World Day for Safety and Health, we encourage you to take the safe driving pledge today and share the following Family Approach to Driving Safer with your family, friends, and colleagues, so together we can stop distracted driving and make the roads safer for everyone.
The Family Approach to Driving Safer Best Practices:
- Make safer driving a conversation
- Define distracted driving. Distracted driving can mean a lot of things to different people. So it’s important for us to be clear when we talk about it. Explain the specific behaviors that create distraction and increase exposure to injury. Talk about distracted driving with your family in a way that neither distorts the issue (does safe driving mean you only think about the road and nothing else?) nor minimizes it (e.g., “we only care if you’re texting”). You want to leave no room for assumptions, vagueness, or exceptions (e.g., “I’m just making a quick call, so it’s okay”).
- Make it real for people. No matter how you define distracted driving with your family, ensure that you address it as a real issue and make a connection so everyone gets it in a way that goes beyond mere generalities. Use concrete examples of existing behaviors that pose a risk for injury.
- Paint the picture for safe driving
- Discuss what safe driving looks like. Talking about what not to do isn’t enough. We need to provide people with a model of what safe driving looks like so we can identify the types of behaviors that prevent distracted driving. Is safe driving not using the phone when the vehicle is in motion? Is it turning the phone off altogether when on the road? Talking through specifics paints a picture of how to model safer behavior, helping to increase the adaption of safer driving.
- Help people learn from their mistakes. Use real examples of distracting behaviors to discuss opportunities for creating safer driving habits. For example, do you usually respond to a text immediately, even while you’re driving? If so, what are the things we can put in place to limit/eliminate that impulse? Explore other scenarios that increase distraction, then discuss barriers that may prevent you from mitigating them. Identifying barriers uncovers resources that can help us become safer drivers.
- Create a set of family rules
Rules don’t have to be negative or feel imposed. We know from organizational safety that for the adaption of rules to be successful, proper measures such as communication and team engagement must be in place. Here are a few things to consider when developing driving safety rules with your family:
- Involve everyone in the developing of rules.
- Communicate the final plans to everyone.
- Explicitly define when and how to use mobile devices.
- Try to avoid developing rules as the result of an emotional reaction or punishment.
- Conduct progress checks and ask for feedback after implementation.
- You may also want to take advantage of the latest tech available. There are many smartphone carriers and apps that promote safe driving behaviors. Consider installing an app that shuts off your device when you’re traveling over a certain speed, or one that automatically notifies an incoming caller that you’re driving and can’t pick up.
- Focus on exposures, not accidents
This point may seem counterintuitive; the ultimate objective of driving safety, of course, is to prevent driving accidents. However, focusing on accidents puts the emphasis on outcome over activity and can (wrongly) send the message that it doesn’t matter what you do so long as “nothing bad happens.” The reality is that none of us can truly determine whether or not a decision we’ve made will lead to an injury. This is especially true when it comes to driving behaviors. After all, most people have engaged in risky behavior at one time or other without negative consequences. The problem is that every time a person chooses to engage in a distracted behavior, even if he doesn’t believe anything will happen (or nothing actually happens), he is still creating exposure to himself and others. The more this exposure exists, the greater the opportunity for disaster.
When we think about driving in terms of exposures (rather than outcomes alone), we can recognize the potential for injury in what we do, and examine the decisions that influence that potential. This focus requires us to think long-term about the decisions we make. It also requires taking precautions, in spite of the belief that “nothing bad” will happen.
- Walk the talk
Nothing erodes the cultivation of desired behaviors in children quicker than hypocrisy. Try to avoid double standards, such as: “It’s okay if dad talks on the phone because it’s a work call.” Avoid sending the message that you are immune to exposure (I’m a good driver so I’m less susceptible to distractions than most people). Try to eliminate these instances. There should be no exceptions to the rule. Everyone has to work just as hard to be a safer driver.
Share the facts with those who share our roads
The smartphone is no doubt one of the best innovations of the decade as it has transformed how people live, work, and communicate. Although there are many benefits to smartphone technology, it has also proven to be a hazardous distraction for drivers. According to government statistics, 3,179 Americans were killed and 431,000 were injured due to distracted drivers in 2014 alone. It’s critical to start practicing safer driving behaviors to reduce the increasing distracted driving statistics, and most importantly, arrive at your destination safely. We encourage everyone to start a conversation with your family today and share these best practices for safer driving and safer roads.