Minimize those distractions, maximize attention to driving

TRAFFIC TALK

July 06, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF YOU'RE part of the chattering class, you should pay attention to this: Yammering into a hand-held cell phone while driving became illegal last week in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey.

Why? Because cell phone chatterers are apparently more likely to be involved in car accidents.

But outlawing driver use of cell phones really won't address the problem, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the organization that represents state highway safety agencies.

Hands-free devices, while reducing some distractions and adding convenience for the driver, do not mitigate the mental distraction of the conversation itself.

Face it, whether you're arguing with your daughter over whether she should go to that party tonight, chatting with your best friend or trying to convince your significant other that tonight would be a good night for takeout, your mind is not on the road.

Drivers are equally distracted whether they're holding a cell phone or just talking into one. Research by the GHSA, AAA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that reading and writing (yes, people do that while driving, too), eating, adjusting the radio, interacting with others in the car and grooming detract from a driver's attention to road and traffic conditions.

"The research reaffirms that cell phones are the distraction that drivers love to hate, but in fact they are just one of many that drivers encounter daily," said Kathryn Swanson, chairwoman of GHSA. "Anything that takes a driver's attention away from the task at hand can be potentially fatal, especially distractions that require a cognitive element.

"Driving is a complex task and full attention is needed to reduce the chance of error. The best advice is for drivers to limit these distractions as much as possible: Pull over to a safe location to eat, set your radio station or CD player before you start driving, and do not use a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, while driving."

I have better advice: Lean back, pay attention to the road and learn to enjoy the drive.

A gap too wide

One final comment about the previous three columns' discussion of gaps left between vehicles at intersections. Frank Irizawa thinks readers' recommendation to "stop at a red light just far enough behind the car in front so you can see where its rear wheels touch the pavement" might itself be a culprit.

"I've heard of this rule before, but ironically, it may cause the problem with drivers maintaining too much of a gap in front of their car," he said.

"I had a friend who always used to leave too much space in front of her car because she followed that rule. She was short and the hood of her car was high. So to see the bottom of the tires of the car in front of her, she had to be at least two car lengths back," he said. "Following that rule might also cause one to be too close to the car in front, if your car happens to be low to the ground and have a very short hood, and the car in front has big tires. This could happen if you were driving a Mini Cooper and you were behind a large pickup truck."

His advice? "The rules of the road, as well as any rule of thumb, need to be tempered with common sense and good judgment," he said.

U.S. 40 repairs

"Do you know how much longer we have to endure the bumps and holes along [U.S.] 40 before it's paved?" asked Mariann Hein. She called crossing U.S. 40 at the Chatham Road intersection an "alignment job in the making."

The good news, said Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman, is that the SHA recently began resurfacing U.S. 40 in Howard County between St Johns Lane and the Little Patuxent River; Chatham Road is in that stretch.

Before resurfacing the road, SHA has milled the top inch and a half of pavement. Until the new pavement is put down, this will make your teeth rattle as you ride over it. But hang in there. It's only temporary.

Paving is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Sunday, weather permitting. The project will be complete in September.

"There was a large pothole in the right turn lane from north Chatham Road to U.S. 40 west, which was caused by a leak in a service connection to Howard County's water main," Buck said. "The pothole has been repaired."

Buck said the SHA generally tries to fix potholes within 24 hours of learning about them. But repair times might vary depending on the weather and the size of the repair.

The SHA needs your help to find bad potholes. If you encounter any other potholes or issues on SHA-maintained roads (numbered state routes), call the SHA's toll-free hot line at 800-323-6742.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or comments will not be published or receive a response.

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