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The Safety Zone

Posted on: August 26, 2022

September Safety Zone by Cpl. Mike Johnson

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On July 1, 2018, Georgia’s Hands-Free law went into effect. This law was introduced to reduce distracted driving and save lives. Simply put, you cannot have a wireless device in your hands while driving. That means no texting, no opening apps, or watching or making videos. Makes good sense, right? I mean, this must make us safer as we go about our daily driving. 

Not so fast. First, let’s talk about how we got here in the first place.

When I was learning to drive in the 80s, there were no cell phones, period. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to pull off the road and find a pay phone. My kids laugh at this! Is this to say there were no accidents from distracted driving? Of course not, but there was no such thing as instant communication when you were driving. Over the years, cell phones have evolved to be part of our everyday lives.  

The technology has advanced in vehicles, also. Today’s cars have lane assist, brakes that apply if you get too close, and just about every safety feature you can think of to make us safer on the roads. It seems with all these new advancements and laws to help, there would not be any accidents, ever.

Don’t be fooled. 

In 2019 (the last year data was reported), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates there were 36,096 fatal crashes for the year. Data indicates that 53,714 people were killed due to distracted driving between 2005 and 2017.

There is a formula we teach our officers in braking that includes thinking distance, reaction distance, and total distance to stop. That is 1.5 seconds to two seconds to even identify a hazard and another 1.5 seconds for the information to go from your brain to telling your foot to apply brakes. Once the brakes are actually applied, the total distance is the length it takes for the vehicle to stop. That is if everything is maintained in your vehicle and it is in optimal condition. 

One example: A vehicle traveling at 60 MPH would travel 88 feet per second. Using the formula above, a vehicle would travel 176 feet before brakes would even be applied. This is very scary to think about considering a distracted driver would not even see the hazard in the first place.

I hope I have your attention now. Driving a 4,000-pound vehicle is serious business! Throw in all the hazards that can happen in an instant and it can also be deadly.

Since the Georgia Hands-Free law has gone into effect, Georgia law enforcement agencies have gone to great lengths to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Folks seem to think they are safer with their hands-free devices and voice-activated controls. However, research shows that cognitive distraction, or even talking hands-free, creates its own dangers while driving. In fact, research revealed that talking while driving in a discussion, especially in a heated discussion, can result in reaction times being equivalent to a person consuming .08 grams or legally drunk.

As smart as some of us think we are, the human mind is not designed to multitask. Some may be better at doing multiple things in a setting, but no one can do two things at a single time. So, our brains have to switch from one task to another. We are either concentrated on driving or talking, not both. 

This is why you can have a conversation with someone in the vehicle and if they turn and ask what they said and you don’t recall, you were actually a better driver because you were concentrating on the road and potential hazards. This is what you are supposed to do. 

The opposite is true if you are only concentrating on the conversation with someone on the phone or in the vehicle. You were not scanning the road for potential hazard. You failed to see 50% of the information in your driving environment. Speed limits change. A child can dart out into traffic. There could be icy conditions ahead that could be hazardous in an instant. 

Have you ever arrived at a location but can’t remember the drive? Did you stop at every light? Did you drive the speed limit? In all likely hood, you were an unsafe driver because your attention was elsewhere. 

Switching our attention from task to task creates fatigue in the brain. It limits full focus to either task because we are constantly attention-switching. This is not such a big deal when we are in our homes or offices but is a huge deal when we are driving with our families in a two-ton vehicle in an ever-changing environment. Every second counts when driving!

Distractions can be anything. I see so many drivers who eat while driving, have their little dogs in their laps or are looking back and getting things for their children in the backseat. Anything that takes our eyes off the road and takes away or attention, even for a second, can have lasting consequences. Call me old school, but I believe we have an obligation to be the best drivers we can be to the motoring public, and they have an obligation to me as they are driving.

No hands-free device or safety feature in a car can replace good, common driving sense. The Lilburn Police Department wants to remind the motoring public to be courteous, watch your speed, wear your seatbelt, and put away the distractions while driving.

We owe it to each other! 

"Hands-free Driving: Think You're Safer"
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