The nature of the job with traffic control is traffic itself; it is the greatest danger to flaggers and work crews on the roadways and will always be so. As humans, we are prone to errors of judgment, but add distractions of many kinds, especially the electronic kind, to the mix and the danger increases dramatically. As we enter the season of roadway construction and increased number of drivers on the road, more crews on the road means greater risk for injury and near-crash situations. In 2015, 96,626 crashes occurred in work zones across the US resulting in 25,485 injuries and 642 fatalities. The Transportation Research Record study in 2019 found that distracted driving can drive crash and near-crash risk in work zones by a whopping 546%!
A recent front page headline in the CDA Press reminds the public of the dangers of phone use particularly when driving and the need for enforcement laws to keep everyone safe, motorists, pedestrians, and construction crews alike.
The Scope of Distracted Driving
Distractions affect us in different ways and can come from different places. Visual, cognitive, and manual categorize the different types of distractions we experience.
Particularly dangerous, the human brain is wired to focus on one thing at a time, unlike our audio capacity which can absorb many things simultaneously. Even a glace out the side window takes attention off of what lies ahead. Visual distractions would be anything that takes your eyes elsewhere: GPS navigation, changing radio dials or thermostat, using a phone, or even reading signs like billboards and digital marketing.
Cognition has to deal with mental processes of understanding through thought, experience, and senses; in other words, your thinking. Driving requires a lot of attentive thinking and decision making, which is why there are regulations for the number of allowable driving hours for long haul truckers. Too much engagement in cognitive activities can reduce the awareness and reaction time, especially in work zones. At the same time, not enough stimulation can result in the same. Many drivers will use radio, conversation, audio books, music, etc. to keep cognitively alert. Thankfully, our audio capacity is greater than visual capacity. It is easy to get lost in thoughts, too engaged in conversation, or simply too exhausted or stressed to keep aware for safe driving.
This kind of distraction reduces the physical function of a vehicle, such as taking hands off the wheel. Eating, drinking, hand gestures in conversation (some of us can’t help this one!) reaching for things, holding a phone or a fragile item in the car (can’t show up with a smashed cake to the party!) are all activities that cause manual distraction and impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle.
All it takes is about 2-5 seconds to end up in a place you can’t come back from, and worse, causing this for others. With the increase of traffic and work zones this time of year, it’s likely you may navigate one close to home, the most common and likely place for distractions to take over driving due to familiarity. Traffic cones and signs are brightly colored and placed to capture the visual attention of drivers, which is where it needs to be when navigating through a work zone. Stay tuned to learn more about distracted driving and updates about local law enforcement practices to keep everyone safe on the road.