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Two seconds of driving distraction more dangerous than you think

One of our posts last week focused on the fact that April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Texting, cellphone conversations and other driving distractions are increasingly becoming a problem on roads in California and across the United States. This is, in part, because those who choose to engage in distracted driving vastly overestimate their ability to do so safely.

Let's say that you have a rule that you'll only look at your phone to see who called or texted (you won't respond while driving). Glancing at your phone will probably take about two seconds. That is normally an insignificant amount of time, but behind the wheel, it's dangerous. At 70 miles per hour, your car would have traveled about 200 feet. Moreover, recent research shows that a two-second glance away from the road is actually longer than two seconds, because it takes time for your eyes to readjust to the road and to reassess the traffic conditions.

This was one of the findings in a study conducted by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. Researchers noted that compared to drivers who stayed focused on the road, those who "experienced a two-second visual interruption demonstrated lower ability to react to potential hazards, such as a vehicle quickly pulling into traffic," according to an article in Claims Journal.

Many people assume that the traffic conditions in their immediate vicinity will stay the same, which is why they allow themselves to look away for a few seconds. But traffic conditions are always changing, and drivers who look away for unnecessary reasons (like glancing at their phone) are reducing the chances that they can safely adjust to unexpected changes.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that distracted drivers often assumed they performed better than they actually did. They gave themselves an average score of 70 percent, which was likely much more generous than accurate.

When we're driving, there are dozens of reasons why we may need to look away from the road for short periods. In many cases, visual distractions can't be avoided - only minimized. But interacting with a cellphone or other non-essential distractions can be prevented. Choosing to give into these distractions puts the driver and everyone else at risk for serious harm.

Source: Claims Journal, "In-Vehicle Two Second Glance Increases Driving Risk: Liberty Mutual," April 16, 2015

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