Distracted Driving Doesn’t Have to Happen

“This didn’t have to happen,” said Dave Kubert about the life-changing injuries he and his wife Linda sustained at the hands of a distracted driver.  Both underwent the amputation of their left legs and joined a growing community of individuals injured each year as the result of the more than 1.1 million motor vehicle crashes that involve cell phone use.

“Driver distractions – using a cell phone, texting, checking directions or accessing a vehicle’s infotainment center – take your eyes off the road and impact the brain’s ability to concentrate on the task of driving. As a result, drivers miss important signals and road hazards, have slower response and reaction times, and are four times more likely to be involved in a crash,” explained Neil Jasey, M.D., director of brain injury rehabilitation at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Nearly ten people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured every day in crashes involving a distracted driver. In fact, distracted driving now ranks with alcohol and speeding as the top three causes of fatal and serious injury crashes.1

According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use while driving presents three areas of concern: visual risks, such as looking away from the road; manual risks, like not keeping both hands on the wheel; and cognitive risks, the ability to process the information needed to drive safely.  Using a hands-free or Bluetooth-enabled device may help to reduce some visual or manual risks, but it does not help drivers maintain their focus.

“Driving is actually a complex brain task involving our ability to recognize and process information based on what we see, hear and understand, and translate that into physical action – stepping on the gas, steering and braking,” said Dr. Jasey. “Studies show, however, that when using a cell phone, drivers may gaze at the environment around them, but fail to see or process about half of the information around them, something we call ‘inattention blindness.’ Unfortunately, people don’t realize they’re simply not as attentive as they need to be.”

Studies also show that the human brain is not capable of multi-tasking. When attempting to perform two cognitive tasks at one time, such as driving and talking on a phone, the brain actually switches back and forth between them. It does this so quickly that it seems we are able to accomplish several tasks simultaneously, but this actually decreases our focus, attention level and decision-making processes.

“Using a cell phone, texting and similar activities is a choice,” said Dave Kubert.  “And I can say from experience … from the pain and frustration and physical and emotional challenges my wife and I faced, these are just not smart choices.  There are enough distractions and dangers on the road without adding to them.”

To help drivers make wise choices and reduce the risk of distracted driving injuries – including brain and spinal cord injuries, amputation, orthopedic trauma and other injuries – Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation offers the following key guidelines:

  • Keep your eyes on road, your hands on the wheel and your mind focused on driving.
  • Do NOT talk, text, check emails or look up information on your phone when driving, even on a hands-free device. Remember, hands-free does not mean risk-free.
  • Set the “do not disturb” feature on your phone to minimize the temptation to answer a call or check a text.
  • Set navigation and other infotainment features only when stopped.
  • Limit conversations with passengers so that you can concentrate on driving.

Thanks to advocacy efforts by the Kuberts and others across the country, many states have enacted strict laws and stiff penalties with respect to distracted driving. “Enforcing these laws, educating the public about the risks of distracted driving and encouraging auto and phone manufacturers to develop additional safety features can help to save lives and prevent injury,” suggests Dr. Jasey.