Are Drivers Less Distracted?

Photo of a car dashboard showing the steering wheel and a face mask dangling from the rear view mirror
Distraction in cars still happens…

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Just curious. Traffic seems better because there are  fewer cars on the road. But, now that we are all staying at home more, are we  less distracted when we get in our cars too?  Tommy, San Francisco

I get your point that people are spending so much time at home during the quarantine so perhaps they are safer when they go out.  Maybe they have done social media catch-up before they left the house so less need for distracted driving and phone conversations in the car? Or, maybe they just want to experience getting out, without a tether to tech. Some people may want to leave their phones at home because of the embedded tracking issues. Not really sure, however…

If they do place or answer calls from their car with Bluetooth enabled speakers hopefully these will be short, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ dialogues. They will leave the cognitively challenging talks for back home- the discussions about marriage and divorce, bankruptcy or medical reports.

How did I get here?!

We all have had times when we traveled from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ in a semi-autonomous haze. We are so wrapped up in what we are saying that we travel without actively noticing our surroundings. The public has the hardest time comprehending that cognitive distraction can occur when using hands-free, bluetooth car tech. Often, we equip our cars with state-of-the-art communications, but we travel even less safely.

Perhaps Covid will bring us greater self-awareness, from the task of wearing a face-mask when we are around others, to having greater respect for other drivers on the road, assuming we enforce both rules. Traffic accidents and crash-related deaths were halved in California when the shelter-in-place began. Tragically, traffic fatalities have returned to last year’s levels, because of excessive speed on open roads. 

If we are out and about these days, we all need to slow down, remember to wear masks, and be aware of others well being, as well as our own.  Distraction comes in many forms.

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