By Einar Jensen, Risk Reduction Specialist for South Metro Fire Rescue
Although “distracted driving” remains a popular phrase and is often tied to cell phone usage, the act of driving is inherently distracting because of the hundreds of stimuli confronting drivers along every mile of roadway.
“For those of us who aren’t brain surgeons,” author Tom Vanderbilt wrote in his 2008 book Traffic, “driving is probably the most complex everyday thing we do.” Researchers in Maryland found that a piece of information—signs, striping, curbs—was presented to drivers every two feet. A driver along that road would receive 1,320 items of information per minute at 30 mph.
All those pieces of information are useful, but still distracting if a driver spends too much time pondering or interpreting them individually or collectively. New information also may cause the driver to forget information such as vehicles seen a few moments before in a mirror.
If, while driving, we were to really process every potential hazard, carefully analyze every motion and decision, and break down each maneuver into its component parts, we would quickly become overwhelmed,” said Vanderbilt.
A good defense against overthinking each aspect of driving as well as focusing our attention on what matters is practice. Practice is best completed when the stakes are low such as in a classroom setting.
The South Metro Safety Foundation, a non-profit arm of South Metro Fire Rescue, offers several classes for drivers of all ages to practice their skills and improve their safety:
- Adult/Senior Driving Skills is a 4-hour hands-on driving class, perfect for new Colorado residents, senior citizens, and all other adults aged 22 and older who would like to improve their ability to handle challenging winter driving situations. $60.
- The 4.5-hour Teen Driver Awareness Program allows teens to get their driving permit and provides parents an affordable driver’s education option. This class includes information in all areas of the learn-to-drive process, and coverage of material found on the DMV written test (taken at the DMV). The class also includes video driving simulations with a focus on safety. $80.
- The Crash Avoidance Teen Driving Skills class prepares young drivers with either a permit or license between the ages of 15 and 22 for the road ahead. This 6.5-hour class provides young drivers with a practical driving experience to develop car control and defensive driving skills. $175.
Teen drivers without driving violations can apply for a State Farm Scholarship to offset the costs of the Crash Avoidance Class. This program, hosted by the South Metro Safety Foundation and South Metro Fire Rescue, is funded by a State Farm® grant.