Driving while distracted decreases focus, increases risk

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael DeWandeler
  • 509th Bomb Wing Ground Safety
Maintaining situational awareness behind the wheel can be a challenge, but losing focus can lead to disastrous results. Driving while distracted is one of the leading human factors attributed to traffic mishaps, yet it doesn't get nearly as much publicity as drunk driving or lack of seatbelt use.

Distracted driving has been a factor in nearly every government-owned vehicle accident at Whiteman this year. It has also been a factor in a significant number of local privately-owned vehicle mishaps as well.

Fortunately, there have been no instances of major injury or property damage as of late, but with the increasing number of near misses and minor mishaps, that trend is not likely to continue without immediate and direct involvement.

Driving distractions fall into one or more of three categories: manual, visual, and cognitive. A manual distraction is something that results in the driver taking their hands off the wheel, such as eating. A visual distraction is one that causes the driver to takes their eyes off the road.

A cognitive distraction is something that takes the mind off driving completely, such as daydreaming. Some distractions fall into multiple categories and increases the potential for an accident to happen. For example, texting while driving increases accident potential 23 times higher than driving while not distracted.

Driving distracted is one of the five leading human factors that can contribute to a fatal traffic mishap.

The other four are speeding, driving under the influence, driving while fatigued, and not wearing safety belts. The Air Force has policies to help regulate many of these factors, including policies discouraging cell phone use when driving.

However, many other distractions are nearly impossible to regulate. Nobody has ever been pulled over for driving while daydreaming.

The distraction factor is the most difficult human factor to eliminate. This fact is evident in reports received regarding on-base traffic mishaps. In the majority of cases, there is only one causal factor - the driver simply wasn't fully paying attention to what he or she was doing.

Every traffic mishap costs man-hours across multiple organizations, regardless of the nature of severity. With every traffic mishap, notifications are made to multiple organizations, investigations are conducted, paperwork is completed and routed, parts are ordered, and repairs are completed.

Distracted driving is the hardest factor to eliminate from society as a whole, but individuals can reduce the likelihood of losing focus while driving by understanding how a lack of focus increases the risk.

Distractions can and will happen when you are behind the wheel. Being better educated as to how distractions increase the risk of a mishap can inspire you to be a more focused driver.