Would you drive blindfolded?

I hope you said ‘no’ in response to that question! If you didn’t, maybe you shouldn’t be sharing the road with the rest of us sane people!

To me, driving whilst distracted is just like driving blindfolded. In either scenario, you cannot and do not see the road in front, to the side, or behind you. You cannot detect or react appropriately to driving hazards that you would otherwise be able to avoid. Yet a simple drive/walk/cycle down any busy street is likely to mean that you will encounter someone who is distracted, that is, someone who is effectively driving whilst blindfolded.

Here in Australia, distracted and inattentive driving is recognised as one of our Fatal Five (e.g., see http://www.police.qld.gov.au/News+and+Alerts/campaigns/fatalfive.htm). Sources of distraction include external mechanisms both inside the vehicle such as mobile phones and in-car navigation devices or outside the vehicle such as roadside advertising, but may also include oft-unrecognised internal mechanisms such as extreme emotions. Whilst distracted driving is not unique to the young driver, by virtue of their driving inexperience they are at increased risk of harm as a result of distracted driving. Naturalistic driving research recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine (see http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1204142?query=featured_home) revealed that the risk of a crash/near-crash among young drivers increased significantly if drivers were

* dialling or reaching for a cell phone,

* sending or receiving text messages,

* reaching for an object other than a cell phone,

* looking at a roadside object, or

* eating.

Crash risk increased significantly for experienced drivers who were dialling a cell phone (risks associated with accessing internet and texting were not measured). The Authors noted that “The secondary tasks associated with the risk of a crash or near-crash all required the driver to look away from the road ahead.” Effectively driving blindfolded. This suggests that efforts should address the ‘blindfolded driving’ not only of young drivers through interventions such as graduated driver licensing programs as recommended by the Authors, but blindfolded driving by all drivers of all ages and driving experiences.