Swannanoa-- Law enforcement officials say distracted driving is a growing problem in Western NC and around the country.
And a fairly bizarre crash makes their point: A woman wrecked her SUV while trying to eat a salad, witnesses told the NC Highway Patrol.
The name of the woman who crashed her SUV Monday afternoon and the extent of her injuries were not released. Her accident on Riverwood Road in Swannanoa, however, serves as a cautionary tale.
Nationally, distracted driving is a contributing factor in up to 8,000 crashes every day, according to AAA.
Asheville Citizen-Times Reporter Romando Dixon talked with Highway Patrol about the issue.
"What we're finding is more and more collisions are being caused by inattention and drivers that are distracted," 1st Sgt. Pat Staggs said. "Speed has always been the No. 1 collision cause factor in North Carolina, but we're finding driver inattention is really beginning to become a serious issue in collision-causing factors."
Troopers say the reasons for inattention vary. Texting and talking on the phone are common examples. But drivers also eat and read behind the wheel, Staggs said.
"All of us have busy lives," he said. "We're trying to multitask when we're operating these vehicles, and it's clearly not working out. In the last year we've had collisions when people have been killed or seriously injured simply by not paying attention.
"We're seeing that a whole lot. And it's causing serious issues, serious collisions, serious injuries and taking people's lives. And it's absolutely preventable."
AAA says using a cellphone while driving quadruples your risk of crashing. Eating, smoking, adjusting music or rubbernecking while driving can be just as dangerous as texting, emailing or talking on a cell phone.
Staggs said drivers need to anticipate what's happening immediately in front of them, as well as down the road - something that's tough to do if you're preoccupied with nondriving-related tasks - like eating a salad.
He said several multiple-vehicle crashes happened last weekend, including some because of storms in the area. Many of the accidents were rear-end collisions. The number of vehicles involved can sometimes be limited if people paid more attention, Staggs said.
The average reaction time for someone not fully concentrating on driving is about 1.6 seconds, Staggs said. The average reaction time for someone who is concentrating is about 0.75 seconds. Those fractions of a second are important when, for example, a vehicle traveling 55 mph moves at 80 feet per second.
"Although we don't anticipate traffic stopping on an interstate, we know, driving in Buncombe County, it happens," Staggs said, noting that heavily used exit ramps can be the cause of this in some cases. "Things happen so quickly out here on the highway with traffic the way it is now. You have to anticipate way ahead."