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Distracted Driving: Canadian versus U.S drivers
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A habit is an established pattern that becomes the person's normal behavior. Habits may be formed through repetitive actions and may become so ingrained that it becomes almost or totally involuntary. There are good driving habits, such as always using turn indicators, and bad driving habits, such as consistently exceeding the speed limit. Distracted driving falls in the category of bad driving habits. In fact, studies from the United States National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, or VTTI, report that distracted driving is linked to approximately 80 percent of all crashes.

Distracted driving is operating a motor vehicle while the driver is simultaneously giving part of his or her attention to something else. Distractions may be visual, mental, physical or a combination of any or all three. A visual distraction is something that causes the driver to look away from the road. Mental distractions are those that cause the driver's mind to wander, meaning his or her thoughts are no longer focused exclusively on surroundings, traffic and events unfolding on the road. Physical distractions lead to drivers removing their hands from their steering wheels.

texting and driving pictureLocating a compact disc, removing it from its case and inserting it in a car's CD player involves a physical and visual distraction at minimum; in some instances, the act may also constitute a mental distraction. Eating while driving typically involves a physical distraction and may also require the driver to take his or her eyes off the road, although the visual distraction may be brief. Mental distractions can occur when the driver's attention is more focused on passengers, pets or children than on driving. Giving in to road rage can also be classified as a mental distraction.

Examples of distracting activities include consuming beverages or food; answering or making cell phone calls; and reading or sending text messages. Personal grooming activities, such as applying makeup or nail polish are also distractions. Men are guilty of distracting grooming activities as well, such as shaving, combing their hair or clipping their fingernails. Drivers attempting to corral an unrestrained pet, discipline bickering children in the back seat or conduct a serious conversation with a passenger are also distracted. Reading, whether the document is a newspaper, book or map, is normally a major distraction.

According to a recent Kanetix.ca distracted driving poll, approximately 78 percent of all Canadian drivers surveyed admitted to having one or more bad driving habits. About 39 percent said they consumed beverages or food while they were driving, 18 percent said they routinely use cell phones, 11 percent admitted to road rage and 3 percent reported applying makeup while they were driving. Other categories of bad driving habits included speeding, tailgating, frequent lane changes, failing to signal and illegally parking in handicapped spots. The data indicates that, in Canada alone, this means that approximately 18,750,000 drivers display undesirable habits behind the wheel.

Drivers in the U.S. share many of the same habits as their Canadian counterparts. In November 2011, a HealthDay.com Poll garnered 2,800 responses. About 86 percent said they had consumed food or beverages while driving, and 57 percent reported they did it "often" or "sometimes." Thirty-seven percent have engaged in texting, with 18 percent reporting they did so regularly. About 20 percent of the drivers say they have styled or combed their hair, and 10 percent said they did so on a regular basis. Seven percent said they frequently apply makeup while driving, and twice that many admit to having done so at least once. Among adults, approximately 13 percent admitted to surfing the Internet while engaged in driving.

The comparison between US drivers and Canadians is particularly interesting to note. Based on these numbers one has to question whether factors ranging from increased fast-food stops, freeways, a high population (and, likewise, of drivers on the road), or, even so far as Canadians included in the above poll were as critical about their driving habits as that of the US drivers. While the significant difference is a matter of note, the fact remains that any amount of distracted driving is simply too much, and the consequences are not to be taken lightly no matter where you are.

The NHTSA reported that 3,092 deaths occurred in 2010 as a result of distracted driving, but the actual number is suspected to be much higher. As a group, drivers under the age of 20 had the greatest number overall distracted drivers, while drivers between the ages of 30 and 39 had the greatest percentage of fatal crashes involving drivers who were using cell phones at the time. Driving while using a cell phone, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Motorists study, increased the chances of getting into an accident resulting in a serious injury to the driver by 400 percent.

texting and driving pictureTeen drivers, due in large part to their lack of experience, suffer the most from distractions. One passenger riding with a teenaged driver increases the risk of a fatal accident twofold, while two or more passengers increased the risk by 400 percent. The NHTSA reported that research showed that around 46 percent of drivers younger than 18 years of age admitted they sent or received text messages while driving; while texting, teen drivers remained in their own lanes for about 90 percent of the duration. On average, a car travels about 100 yards during the five seconds it normally takes to answer a text message.

Among Canadian drivers, the Kanetix poll driving statistics revealed that the largest numbers of distracted drivers were in the 18 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups, with 85.0 and 83.6 percent, respectively, admitting to bad driving habits. By gender, 80.5 of the men surveyed and 75.4 percent of the women confessed to less-than-perfect driving. There was less than a 2 percent difference among single, married and widowed, separated or divorced drivers.

Drivers have good reasons to develop safe driving habits beyond the risks of injuring themselves, their passengers or others. Accidents on a driver's records increase insurance rates. Tickets for moving violations also increase rates, and more and more jurisdictions are enacting laws that seek to discourage driving while distracted. For example, in the state of California, drivers over the age of 18 may only use hands-free cell phone devices, while those under 18 cannot use any type of cell phone, whether hands-free or not, while they are driving.

Distractions affect drivers' decision-making ability, decrease their awareness of their driving environment and slow reaction times. Making sure that passengers are wearing appropriate seatbelts, placing children in car seats and only transporting pets in secured cages or kennels can help reduce distractions. Driving when angry or upset can be distracting, so drivers should avoid operating a motor vehicle unless they are able to focus all of their mental faculties on the task. In general, paying attention, remaining alert and expecting the unexpected are important factors in being a safe driver.

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