Pay Attention!

Don’t let driving distractions wreck your summer vacation.

By: Dr. Michael Fuentes

Distracted driving is a growing – and dangerous – recurring event in the United States. Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel or your mind off driving.

A study through the National Institutes of Health found that drivers eat, reach for the phone, text or otherwise take their eyes off the road about 10 percent of the time. This behavior can endanger the driver, passengers and bystanders. Distracted driving can include a myriad of activities, including:

• Texting
• Talking on a cell phone
• Looking at a GPS system
• Eating or drinking
• Grooming
• Talking to passengers
• Adjusting the radio
• Reaching for items elsewhere in the car

Probably the most alarming distraction of all is text messaging because it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver. Five seconds is the average time someone’s eyes are off the road while texting. When the individual is traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day, more than eight people are killed and 1,161 are injured in motor vehicle crashes that involve a distracted driver. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, and 424,000 were injured – a 10 percent increase since 2011. In the same year, nearly one in five crashes (18 percent) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.

As a physician, I’ve seen the effects of distracted driving first-hand, including several orthopedic, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. It’s important to note that more than half of traumatic brain injuries are caused by automobile accidents.

A brain injury occurs when there is a blow or jolt to the head. In a vehicle accident, this can occur when an airbag deploys or a person hits the windshield or steering wheel. All brain injuries are serious and can affect a person’s cognitive or physical abilities. They also can result in behavioral or emotional impairments.

A person who suffers a significant brain injury most likely will require rehabilitation to relearn basic skills, such as walking, talking or eating. It can be a long process that requires the specialized skills of a multidisciplinary medical team. And, while I’m glad that I’m part of a team at Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital that can help in the long-term recovery of these types of patients, I would rather that these types of injuries were prevented.

With summer vacations in full swing, many of us will be driving to our destinations. Let’s remove our distractions and pay attention to the road. The simplest and most effective way to do this is to turn off your cell phone when you turn on the car ignition. Let’s save lives together.

Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Dr. Michael Fuentes is the medical director of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital.

The hospital provides specialized rehabilitative care to patients recovering from disabilities caused by injuries, illnesses or chronic medical conditions. For more information, visit www.ccrh.ernesthealth.com, call 361-906-3700 or visit the hospital at 5726 Esplanade Drive in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Flynt/bigstock.com