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There’s a time and place for everything, but not while driving

May 11, 2010

Every day we see it. Every day we do it. What is it?


The answer is – distracted driving, the theme of this year’s National Trauma Awareness Month sponsored by the American Trauma Society.


Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver and more than a million were injured, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“Driving responsibly requires our full attention. In a second, someone or something can suddenly appear in front of your car, and if you’re not fully alert, you can hit that person or thing. It only takes a moment’s distraction to result in tragedy,” said Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma and Emergency Surgical Services, Baystate Medical Center.


Distracted driving is defined as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.”


Distractions can be categorized as one of the following:

  •  Visual distracted driving: taking your eyes off of the road.
  •  Manual distracted driving: taking your hands off of the steering wheel.
  •  Cognitive distracted driving: taking your mind of driving.


“We have names for distracted drivers, they’re usually the cell phone socialite, the in-car CD disk jockey, the high-fashion cosmetician, or the 3-course meal king or queen,” said Dr. Gross.


“Undistracted driving is best. When drivers are undistracted, they are able to focus on the roadway and are aware of behaviors of other drivers on the road. These drivers stay focused, pay attention, and expect the unexpected,” he added.


The Baystate Medical Center trauma specialist suggests using your cell phone only for emergency situations while in the car.


“Even then, it’s best to pull over safely to the right shoulder to make a call. Even hands-free devices can cause you to miss important visual and audio cues to avoid a crash,” said Dr. Gross.


Also, eating in the car while driving isn’t a good thing.


“Finishing your breakfast on the way to work or school may seem like a time-saver, but it means you are less attentive to the drivers around you. And food spills are a major cause of distraction,” said Dr. Gross, adding that any multi-tasking should be done outside of the car.


“Everyone spends a lot of time in their vehicles, and it may seem like the perfect time to get little things done such as calling friends, searching for music, maybe even text messaging. But, don’t do it. Keep your entire focus on the road and the drivers around you by getting everything settled before you start driving,” said Dr. Gross.


The Baystate Medical Center trauma specialist also has a special message for teens.


“Teens should limit the number of passengers as well as the level of activity inside the car,” said Dr. Gross.


Most states’ graduated driver licensing laws prohibit teens from having teenage passengers in the car with them during their early months of driving solo. Driving with friends can create a dangerous driving environment because novice drivers are focused on their friends rather than the road, he explained.


Above all, if you’re drowsy, pull off the road. Drowsiness increases the risk of a crash or near-crash by nearly four times.


“If you feel tired, get off the road. Don’t try to get home faster,” said Dr. Gross.


As the only Level 1 Trauma Center in western Massachusetts, Baystate Medical Center treats the region’s most critically injured patients. Baystate’s trauma program works closely with the hospital’s emergency department, one of the busiest in New England, to bring the highest level of medical care to patients facing the gravest health crises.