Andy Burton: Let’s take the challenge to be safer drivers | TheUnion.com

Andy Burton: Let’s take the challenge to be safer drivers

Andy Burton
Columnist

Andy Burton

On a glorious Sunday, Feb. 15 — a day that felt more like spring than winter — I joined a group of about 100-plus local cyclists for the annual Jim Rogers Memorial Bicycle Ride.

The riders convened at the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop mid-morning and then wound their way around the LeMond Loop, a training ride of approximately 15 miles made popular by American cycling great Greg LeMond.

Jim Rogers, a local cycling enthusiast and family man, was tragically killed on Jan. 31, 2010, when struck from behind by a driver who was distracted by a cellphone at the time of the accident.

Since then Rogers' wife Carolyn Jones-Rogers has organized this annual ride in honor of his memory, and as a way to bring awareness to the significant dangers of distracted driving.

It shouldn’t really surprise us that we have so many things to distract us in our cars; it’s almost as if our modern vehicles were designed to provide maximum distraction.

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While the term "distracted driving" has not been around all that long, the problem certainly has. At first blush you might think that the phrase refers only to issues around cellphone use while driving, but in reality, the problem is much broader than that.

When we get into our cars and slide behind the wheel, there are a whole host of activities and distractions that steal our attention away from the business of focused and attentive driving.

A quick visit to http://www.distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, will provide you with a ton of information and a much better understanding of the breadth of the problem.

To be sure the list of distractions is headed up by texting and cellphone use, but the list also includes seemingly innocent activities like eating and drinking, talking to passengers, using a navigation system and even grooming.

However, according to an ExxonMobil study of 1,000 drivers and their habits, 70 percent of drivers admit to eating behind the wheel and 83 percent admit to drinking beverages while driving. (http://www.drive-safely.net)

Another study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) went a little deeper into the issue of eating and drinking while driving and determined that coffee is the single most dangerous food item to consume while behind the wheel. It makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it.

If you add up all the seconds you spend reaching for your cup, taking it out of the cup holder and then placing it back, looking for the right spot to drink from, and even reaching out to steady the cup when braking or turning — all these individual seconds and split-seconds add up to a lot of distraction.

And how many times have we all heard in the description of a traffic accident that it all happened "in a blink of an eye"?

It shouldn't really surprise us that we have so many things to distract us in our cars; it's almost as if our modern vehicles were designed to provide maximum distraction.

Cars these days come with all kinds of features and accessories designed to enhance the driving experience — video display panels, entertainment systems, auxiliary ports for attaching external devices, navigation systems and even cup holders of every conceivable size, shape and location.

All of these compete for our attention and are all perfectly legal. Add to that list the fast food outlets that offer drive-through service and lap mats for eating in the car and you can see that the idea of multi-tasking while driving is well supported all throughout our lives.

What is the solution to all this? Like many things it boils down to personal choice. We can choose to take steps to make ourselves better and more attentive drivers.

We certainly can't control what everyone else on the road does, but we can make ourselves safer, and in doing so we can also be a better example for our kids.

I'd like to propose a challenge; let's call it the "30 Day Glove Box Challenge." For the next 30 days, whenever you get into your car for a trip of any length, take an extra few seconds to put your cellphone in the glove box.

Make sure that it's either turned off or placed in silent mode (remember to disable the vibration, all of our ears have now been trained to hear that, too) and leave it there for the duration of the trip.

Find out for yourself if at the end of the 30 days you feel as though you were better able to concentrate on driving safely and in doing so become an overall better driver.

Andy Burton, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not represent the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board.

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