By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
According to Deadly Distractions, a booklet produced by Shell Oil Company with assistance from AAA and several federal agencies, driving distractions or inattentive driving contribute to one out of four vehicle crashes. Amazing, isn’t it?
We can’t control the distractions that cause other drivers to operate their vehicles dangerously, but we can certainly decrease our own odds of having an accident that could result in damage to the coach, or worse, injury to ourselves or others. Here are some examples of the primary driving distractions to avoid.
1. Eating or drinking on the run
Can anyone claim they’ve never eaten a snack or even a meal while driving? The best advice is to eat only when the motorhome is stationary. More realistically, carefully choose what you do and do not eat when driving. Avoid individually wrapped candies, muffins, and granola bars. Save crumbly snacks for times when it’s easier to deal with the droppings. If the food is sticky or messy, don’t even think of eating it while in motion. You get the idea.
2. Mobile phones
Not long ago, cell phones were a novelty — now they’re ubiquitous. Who among us hasn’t come alongside a car being driven by someone who is concentrating far more on the conversation than on his or her driving? Never mind that it’s rush hour. Thankfully, concerned communities — large and small, plus the entire state of New York — are limiting the use of cell phones while driving. Stay safe, stay alive, and let a passenger do the dialing while you do the driving. Don’t succumb to the temptation to listen to the conversation; your passenger can bring you up-to-date when it’s completed. If you don’t have a passenger, pull off the highway at a rest stop or other appropriate place to make your call or to continue a conversation, if you’ve received a call.
3. Changing stations
The booklet points out that searching for a radio station or inserting a CD makes you six times more likely to be in an accident than looking at the speedometer or fuel gauge. When traveling, let the copilot take care of selecting the music or do it when the coach isn’t in motion. Station changing is even more dangerous when the driver has to stretch to reach the radio knobs. The same precautions should be taken when operating the motorhome’s on-board navigation system, cockpit climate controls, or other devices.
4 Children — wonderful but dangerous
Children, cute as they are, must be taught to leave the driver alone when traveling. It’s not a good time to ask questions, to consult about a project, or to complain that “Johnny’s got my favorite book!” Youngsters should be buckled up in the living area where they can enjoy the scenery or play with toys. The farther back in the coach that the children are anchored, the less likely the sounds of happy (or screaming) voices will distract the driver.
5 Pets underfoot? No
During our seven years of full-time travel, and on every trip since, our dogs have accompanied us. Of course, we spent the necessary hours training them not to bark out the window at cars, cows, or other fascinating creatures. They knew the meaning of and acted upon the word “down.” Both our Dobermans and Kelpies had the kind of low-key dispositions that made them good travelers. Our cat, on the other hand, has to be belted to the seat or kept inside a carrier. She’s deeply offended by the confinement and lets us know about it, but it prevents her from strolling across the dashboard or curling up around the driver’s feet.
6 Rising irritation
Never argue while driving. If you’re the passenger, never argue with the driver, especially if it’s your spouse. If you should feel the temperature rising, change the subject. By the time you’re in camp, probably neither of you will remember the problem. And after a cooling-off period, if there’s still an issue, it can probably be resolved without the sound and fury.
7. Lighting up
The act of pulling a cigarette out of the pack, digging around for a lighter or match, and lighting up gives you a moment or two of distraction. So does lighting a pipe or cigar. You’ll be much safer if you hold out until you make a rest stop. And you’ll probably enjoy the break more.
8. Headphones or loud music
Regardless of the kind of music you prefer, wearing headphones (which is illegal in some states) or listening to loud music can take your attention away from the steering wheel and the rearview mirror. You probably don’t go jiving down the road like a rap singer anymore, but at the very least, the music can drown out sounds that could be critical to hear, such as sirens, coughing engines, and screeching brakes.
9. Enjoying the scenery
When traveling in a beautiful area, it’s tough to keep your eyes off the trees, ponds, and meadows and on the road. The solution: frequent stops where you can enjoy the beauty through the motorhome’s windows or outside your coach. Nature, at its best, is an all-encompassing, aesthetic experience as you view your surroundings, smell the grass and flowers, and listen to the birds singing in the trees. If you need an excuse to get out of the motorhome and experience it all, you probably needed a stretch break, anyway.
10. Police pullovers
The sight of a police car or a uniformed officer draws everyone’s attention, not just the people involved in an incident. Our curiosity perks up, accompanied with questions such as, “I wonder how fast he was driving?” or “Was anyone hurt?” As an uninvolved motorist, the safest thing to do is to continue driving, slowly and with caution, past the accident or pullover. Should the police officer need your assistance, you’ll be waved to the side of the road.
11. Road construction
You must have noticed by now how nicely the peak travel season coincides with the road construction season. If you want sunny weather and balmy breezes, expect roads to be torn up and overpasses to be under construction. Let your passengers gawk at the construction crews and equipment while you keep your eyes on the road.
12. Roadside advertising
Billboards are intended to grab your attention — that’s why companies incur the considerable expense of placing them. Unfortunately, billboards can become a major distraction. Some of the headlines are so clever, the graphics so powerful, or the text so long, that you could drive off the road before you’ve finished taking it all in. Incongruous, though, isn’t it? If you drive off a cliff, how are you going to buy the company’s product?
13. Rely on your copilot
A copilot can provide important services that ease the stress of driving. Lowell enjoys driving far more than his wife does. Thus, she’s the map reader and navigator, as well as the designated gofer. Frankly, it works out best that way, and besides, isn’t that what copilots are for?