Driving distractions come in all forms

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 12/29/2011 1:40 PM

This week, our series of distracted driving editorials has focused on texting and cellphone use. But distractions come in all forms.

The advances in technology have led to increased awareness of distracted driving, certainly, and increased ways to use technology to distraction. According to research done by State Farm Insurance, for example, 43 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 accessed the Internet in 2011, an increase from 29 percent in 2009. The same research showed marked increases in reading and updating social media networks, such as Facebook. But technological distractions, while in vogue, are not the only ways drivers can lose focus on the road.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did an extensive analysis of distracted driving in September 2010. What was the most common distraction? Talking with a passenger. The NHTSA reports that 17 percent of the estimated 2,188,970 crashes it studied could be traced to conversing with a passenger right before the crash.

Other factors (besides cellphone use) include looking at the movements/actions of other passengers; adjusting the radio/CD player; adjusting other vehicle controls; retrieving objects from the floor or seat or other location; eating or drinking; smoking; reading maps, directions, newspapers or some other material; or focusing on other internal objects.

And plenty of nondriving activities lead to distractions as well: an argument before driving, financial problems, family problems, personal problems. They all lead to drivers not focusing on the task at hand: safely operating a vehicle.

We've heard from letter writers this year who don't believe distracted driving is as prevalent as we have reported. It's true that maybe some have not used a cellphone or worse, texted while driving, but any driver would be hard pressed to say they haven't been distracted by one or more of the factors listed above.

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It's also true we can't legislate against all forms of distractions, but one suburb, Oak Park, is considering banning eating, drinking and applying makeup while driving. And one only has to recall the case of Lora Hunt, now 50, who received 18 months in jail for ramming her car at 50 mph into a motorcyclist stopped at a traffic light in Lake County. She was convicted of killing Anita Zaffke, 56, of Lake Zurich, because prosecutors proved she was painting her fingernails while driving.

Staff Writer Marni Pyke reminded us this week of another tragic death -- that of 5-year-old Adam Miller, killed in a Naperville accident caused by a driver who was reaching down to pick up a cigar.

It only takes a second for drivers to shift their attention from the road and cause an accident harming themselves or someone else. As we concentrate on texting and driving, drivers must constantly be aware of all their actions and consider the consequences should they ignore the warnings.