The snow has melted, and the mountain trails are calling your name. You hop in your car to drive to your favorite camping spot, but there's a problem: so is everyone else.
Road trip season is here, and last year, Americans took an estimated 683 million trips by car (AAA). So, it's no surprise to learn that the summer months can see a higher number of vehicle crashes than other months (NHTSA). With increased mileage and crowds on the summer roads, now is a good time for a refresh on some driving safety tips with Craig Hospital's Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist, Colleen Knoll.
Of her 27 years as an occupational therapist at Craig, Colleen has worked as an Adaptive Driving Specialist for the past 16 years, educating our patients and their families and caregivers on how to return to driving after an injury and also safely travel as a passenger. And with more than half of Craig's patients sustaining their injuries in motor vehicle accidents, driving safety is an important topic to our staff.
"Driving is such a task that requires your undivided attention, both your central and peripheral focus, and oftentimes when people are doing something other than driving, they're taking their attention off the road and things can happen within a split second," Colleen says. "Distracted driving can be very dangerous, because it sets you up for a higher potential to cause an accident or to be involved in an accident and more of a potential to hurt, not only yourself but everyone driving around you."
Distracted driving is becoming more and more common with the increasing use of cellphones while driving. In fact, about one in every four crashes involves cell phone use, according to the National Safety Council. "When a person is getting in a vehicle, that should be their undivided attention," Colleen says. "I suggest to people, if you really need to be on your phone, you should pull over and it should only be in an emergency situation. My suggestion is to put your cell phone on airplane mode; silence it so you're not thinking about it."
Even with your cellphone silenced, the people riding in your car with you and road trip accessories, like GPS or music, can become dangerous distractions. "If you have a number of people in your car or if people are trying to carry on a conversation with you and you get into a situation where there's traffic, there's a lot of confusion and chaos. It may be best to ask people to hold their conversation to a minimum. If you are multitasking, utilize the person in the car with you to handle the map or radio."
Impaired driving is another major cause of accidents, but it may not always be what you think. “It's important to know that there are situations that can really put you at risk. There are several ways to be considered impaired when you get behind the wheel,” Colleen says. “One of them can be that you took a medication that has side effects. People don't always realize that some medications could make them drowsy and affect their ability to operate a vehicle. There's also drinking, drugs and drowsiness. If you haven't had enough sleep, getting a cup of coffee is not really going to amend the situation. What you should really think about is maybe taking a nap or stepping away from the situation in the car for a little while, because drowsy driving is just as unsafe as impaired driving.”
Keep your car roadworthy is another important factor in lowering your risk of an accident. “If something is broken on your vehicle, those things are there for a reason. It's important to have your turn signals and lights repaired if they're broken. Do a general vehicle inspection every once in a while to see what is going on with a vehicle. It's not only for your safety, but it also communicates to those around you what you're doing.”
As always, seatbelts are a critical factor in protecting yourself and your passengers. In 2019, 47% of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities were unrestrained, according to the NHTSA. If you buckle up in the front seat of a passenger car, you can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45% (Kahane, 2015) and moderate to critical injury by 50% (NHTSA). “Seatbelts are recommended for people to wear at all times,” Colleen says. “Not only is it a state law, it's designed for the safety of the person in the vehicle. And if you’re being transported in a mobility device of some sort, you still need to use the seat belts of the manufacturer.”
On the roads, your decisions don’t just affect you. Be cognizant of protecting the safety of not only yourself and your passengers but also of others using the roads. “One of the things that I really like to ask people to consider is the safety of not only themselves, but everyone else that is on the road,” Colleen says. “If they have family, they want other people to be considerate of not getting on the road if they’re impaired for the protection of themselves and their family. So, they need to exhibit that same consideration.”
“There are a lot of things that people take for granted when they're driving, and they don't even realize how significant something as simple as dropping something on the floor and reaching over to get it or even changing the radio in a very busy situation can be,” Colleen adds. “Things can unfold so quickly that it is wise to just really think about the primary focus of driving.”
For more safe driving tips, check out our resource on distracted driving.