Marine News from the Great Lakes

Distracted Driving

Published: Monday, November 10, 2014



The holidays that arrive each November and December are favorite times for many boaters with trailerable craft to hit the road for points south. Often, the holiday road trips with the boat in tow represent the longest hauls of the season, let alone coming after a month or two when your towing skills may have gone untested.


Towing a boat down the road puts drivers in a special category that includes the acceptance of an elevated responsibility for you and your rig when you share the road with fellow motorists. Those extra axles and the extended load make us less maneuverable while at the same time make us a larger target for trouble from other drivers who may not be as skilled or attentive as they should be. The last thing we need is to compound the threat by being distracted ourselves when we are behind the wheel.


The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly a third of the 3 million automobile accidents may be attributable to what is called “distracted driving.”  Those distractions can – and do – include everything from eating and reading to shaving, watching television and surfing the internet while behind the wheel. One of the most common culprits behind crashes among the distracted is the cell phone; several studies have shown it is simply not possible for most drivers to safely divide their attention between driving and talking on the telephone, let alone texting at the same time.


I performed my own unscientific study over the past season and found that of the half-dozen “close calls” I experienced while driving, four of them were caused by drivers I saw with a cell phone plastered to their ear. And yes, I do know from experience that I am one of those who simply can’t talk on the telephone—even a hands-free model, and concentrate on driving at the same time.     


As boat-towers, discussions on cell phones are only one distraction that can avert our attention while we haul our rig down the road.  The added responsibility for that trailer and its load requires us to refer to our rear-view and side mirrors more often than drivers who are not towing a load.  We need to make sure we are smart about when we take our eyes of the road and the vehicles ahead and reference our mirrors to make sure all is well behind us.


It’s also important to set those mirrors properly so that we can see our rig clearly and instantly without craning our necks, leaning to the side, rising in the seat or otherwise moving from a safe seating position to see what we need to see. It goes without saying that those mirror adjustments need to be made before you leave the driveway; attempting to adjust side mirrors while driving down the road—even those remotely operated from the interior by a joystick, can be as distracting as an X-rated DVD playing on a visor-mounted screen.


Trying to wring every hour out of a long-distance drive may tempt us to perform some of the same multi-tasking we attempt to save time at work and home. Eating while driving may save a half-hour, but that Big Mac in your lap puts you smack dab in the center of that distracted driver category and places a bulls- eye on you and your rig with every bite.     


So does pulling out a road map while at the wheel. GPS units make good alternatives and most models can give you quick alternative routes if you do miss an exit or make a wrong turn. Just don’t be tempted to fiddle with your GPS while you are behind the wheel; pull over or have a companion do the routing for you.


Get your directions, your conversations and your meal down before you drive off with your boat in tow, or pull over and deal with each individually, or you may end up learning the hard way that dividing your attention between driving any anything else can be as dangerous as it is distracting.


tags: Trailers

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