Are You a Distracted Driver?

For many real estate practitioners, doing business from their cars is a necessity. Here are some tips for doing it more safely.

May 1, 2006

If you use your vehicle as a moving office, listen up. Driver inattention, especially due to cell phone use, is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a new report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

In a year-long study of 241 drivers in 100 sensor-equipped vehicles in the Washington, D.C. area, the drivers were involved in 82 crashes and 761 near-crashes.

Cell phones and other hand-held communication devices were linked to the highest frequency of crashes and near crashes, according to researchers. Driver inattention was a factor in 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes.

Drowsy drivers are the second-leading cause of on-the-road mishaps; they were at least four times more likely to crash or narrowly escape an accident than rested motorists, according to the new report. Drowsiness contributed to 20 percent of all crashes and 16 percent of near crashes.

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • Reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times; looking at an external object by 3.7 times; reading by 3 times; applying makeup by 3 times; dialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times; and talking or listening on a hand-held device by 1.3 times.
  • Drivers who engage frequently in distracting activities are more likely to be involved in an inattention-related crash or near-crash. However, drivers are often unable to predict when it is safe to look away from the road to multitask because the situation can change abruptly leaving the driver no time to react even when looking away from the forward roadway for only a brief time.

Tips for Staying Safe on the Road

More and more communities are outlawing cell phone conversations for drivers, but if you're not breaking the law and you absolutely must continue to drive and talk on the phone, here are some suggestions.

  • Get organized. If you’re going to use your car as an office, get organized to limit distraction. Make sure the things you need to use while in the car, including your phone and note-taking materials, are within an easy reach. You shouldn’t be digging through your bag to look for your phone or rummaging through the glove compartment for a pen.
  • If you must take that call, inform callers that you are driving. Alert others that your conversation requires more concentration than you can give while operating your car. Either ask for a moment to pull off the road or suggest that you return the call when you can respond safely. Pull off the road to make notes in your planner or message yourself to return the call.
  • Don’t use the phone in high-traffic areas or in dangerous conditions. Cell phone users are known by researchers to be 24 percent slower in applying their brakes than drivers not using phones, says a study by Miami University. Some communities are considering ordinances that will outlaw cell phone use by drivers in high traffic areas or on roads with dangerous conditions. Snow, ice, sleet, rain, and other hazardous driving conditions compound dangers on most roads, so get into the habit now of staying off the phone on that blind curve or in wet conditions.
  • Acknowledge risks of using hands-free devices. Just because you’ve switched to a hands-free cell phone doesn’t mean you’re safe. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island found that eye movements of drivers who are talking on the phone decrease to a dangerous tunnel vision range. That means they stare straight ahead, losing peripheral vision. Also, most hands-free phones don’t eliminate the need for dialing phone number, which is when drivers who use cell phones are most likely to crash, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Move to slower lanes. Increase the distance between your car and other vehicles. Since cell phone drivers are 24 percent slower to hit the brakes than non-cell phone users, that translates to at least 10 more feet needed between you and the next car per 10 miles per hour.
  • Limit phone use while driving with passengers. In this case, courtesy can be a life-saver. Talking on the telephone puts you in a private conversation with whoever is on the other end, excluding people who may be in your company. If you have passengers, they deserve your attention to the road. If you are waiting for an important call, such as permission to show a home you are on the way to view, be brief and to the point with the caller. Make calls that are associated with your passengers only; save other business and personal calls for later.
  • Don't think that cell phone calls are as safe as passenger conversations. Most defenders of phone use while driving point out that talking on the phone is no more dangerous than chatting with a passenger. But new research says this isn't so. Drivers using cell phones don't move their eyes around, losing critical peripheral vision, as mentioned above. This "tunnel vision" goes on for minutes after phone use while the driver "thinks" about the conversation. Finally, passengers can alert drivers to dangerous situations, while cell phone parties are unable to do so.
  • Practice with your phone. Make yourself very familiar with features such as speed-dialing. Use voice activation if available. Learn to dial emergency numbers such as 911 without looking at your phone and practice ending calls without looking at your phone.
  • Avoid stressful calls. Stress isn't compatible with keeping your attention on the road. If you screen or return your calls while on the road, save the detail-intensive or stressful calls and deal with them later. Don't take notes until you are off the road.

(c) Copyright 2006 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.