Know when it’s time to hand over your keys

Hannah Holliday | Cartoonist

Many people only think of cellphones or drugs and alcohol when it comes to distracted or impaired driving. However, impairment can come in many forms: emotional distress, zoning out, eating or drinking, rowdy passengers, etc.

You may think you’re “fine,” but if something is impairing your ability to focus on the road, you are driving dangerously — to yourself and others on the road or in the car.

Each day in the United States, approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Driver-related factors (i.e., error, impairment, fatigue, and distraction) are present in almost 90% of car crashes, according to research conducted by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in 2015.

It’s your responsibility as an adult driver to be self-aware and be mindful of yours and others’ safety. While driving may be a mundane activity, it is important to remember that when you get behind the wheel, you are operating a huge piece of machinery.

It also doesn’t matter how close you are to home or how well you know the route, impairment can still be dangerous. Fifty-two percent of car accidents occur within five miles of a person’s home and 77% of car accidents occur within 15 miles of a person’s home, according to 2016 statistics from The Sawaya Law Firm.

Some people argue that they only text or call if they’re confident with the road at the time; however, logistically speaking, it may take five seconds to send a text, but if you’re going 55 mph, then you’ve traveled the length of a football field without looking at the road. That’s a lot of distance where you’re not at all aware of what’s going on or coming toward you.

Distraction can come in different forms: manual (hands off wheel), visual (eyes off the road) and cognitive (mind wandering).

Be observant. Keep your eyes and mind on the road while driving. If you’re crying or close to falling asleep, you’re in no way fit to be operating a vehicle. Fatigue can be just as impairing to driving as alcohol.

According to the National Safety Council, driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% – the U.S. legal limit. Additionally, you are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued

Zoning in and out, not being able to think straight, have quick reflexes or decision-making capabilities are mutually occurring symptoms. An estimated 5,000 people died in 2015 in crashes involving drowsy driving, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report.

Have you ever been so emotionally or mentally preoccupied while driving that you arrived to your destination without realizing it? Anything that provokes that kind of situation is an example of cognitive distraction.

Be an adult, and take care of yourself. If you’re emotionally distressed, give yourself permission to do a little self-care. Pull over or park for a few minutes to cry and re-center your mind before trying to get back on the road and focus.

Blurry vision from tears are obvious visual impairment. Lack of mental clarity or function is cognitive impairment.

It may feel like you can make it work or you’ll be fine until a perfect storm occurs while you’re impaired. Take care and stop driving distracted. Don’t contribute to these driving statistics when these distractions are some of the easiest things to address and prevent.