Every now and then it’s a good idea to remind teenage drivers that texting behind the wheel is not only dangerous, it’s illegal. It has been, in North Carolina, since 2009.
It’s also illegal for drivers younger than 18 to use cellphones in a moving vehicle.
But we’re going to have to start reminding older drivers, too, in light of a recent report that concluded they are more likely to be distracted by technology in vehicles. The report, released by AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety, says that drivers from age 55 to 75 are more prone to lose sight of the road than younger drivers, ages 21 to 36.
It’s not so much texting or making phone calls that’s a problem for the mature set; it’s infotainment systems — who knew devices with such a name could be installed in a car? — that have multiple menus and cumbersome functions (think navigation systems and radio/CD players).
The gadgetry “significantly reduced older drivers’ ability to easily complete seemingly simple tasks,” the report says.
When performing such tasks as programming the navigation system or tuning the radio, older drivers removed their eyes and attention from the road for an average of 8.6 seconds, compared with 4.7 seconds for younger drivers, the report says.
As we’ve pointed out before to texting teenagers, taking your eyes off the road for just a couple of seconds can be time enough to cause an accident with deadly consequences. So can fumbling around with an infotainment system. Or a sandwich.
Some devices have voice-command functions that are supposed to free the hands and eyes so drivers can keep their attention on the road.
“Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them,” said Tiffany Wright, the president of the AAA Carolinas Foundation.
In 2018, 46,524 wrecks involving a driver 65 or older were reported, resulting in the deaths of 305 older drivers, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
To prevent such accidents, AAA Carolinas suggests that drivers practice using voice command and touch-screen devices when not driving to build comfort in case they need to use them in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to preset the functions on those devices before the car begins moving.
The report recommends changes to the technology used with such devices as well, which may lead to future improvements. Driving these days, especially on streets filled with Kyle Busch wannabes, requires undivided attention.
We like to think age brings wisdom. But it definitely doesn’t bring faster reflexes or an increased capacity to concentrate.
These warnings aren’t intended to diminish the risks for younger drivers, especially in the weeks ahead as students return to school, some with new driver’s licenses. Texting has become so ubiquitous that it may seem harmless, but it’s not. One second of distraction can lead to disaster.
So, let’s all drive safely, at reasonable speeds, with eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The infotainment can wait until the wheels stop spinning.