In one recent year alone, distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives. Not only that, distracted driving substantially increases accident risk: teen drivers, for example, may have eight times more risk of involvement in a crash when distracted, while adult drivers may suffer twice the accident risk simply by reaching for their cell phones. In spite of these known risks, however, drivers continue to drive distracted, from answering their phones while on the road to checking text messages.
Distracted drivers typically have their attention on something inside the vehicle instead of focusing on driving and on the road. Unfortunately, this behavior can lead to serious challenges.
- Distraction takes your eyes off of the road. Reading and responding to a text, for example, can take your eyes off of the road for about five seconds. If you’re traveling at a rate of 55 miles per hour, you can travel the length of a football field in that interval. Inability to see the road can make it impossible for you to respond to any hazards that creep up during that time: the car in front of you suddenly stopping, a pedestrian or cyclist stepping into the road, or an unexpected deer or pet running in front of you.
- Distraction prevents you from noticing the details. When you focus completely on your driving, you grow more likely to see the details: a driver drifting off the road, slowing to look at street signs, or engaging in reckless behavior. When distracted by other tasks, on the other hand, you may fail to notice those details, which may increase your risk of an accident.
- Without your hands on the wheel, you may not respond as effectively even if you notice a hazard. Some distractions take more than your eyes off of the road. When you remove your hands from the wheel to deal with things inside the vehicle, you have to put them back in place before you can maneuver the vehicle. Having only one hand, especially your non-dominant hand, on the wheel also makes it harder to control the car.
Dealing with distractions can turn even the safest driver into a hazard on the road. Unfortunately, many drivers continue to engage in distracted driving behaviors.
Types of Distraction
Distraction behind the wheel comes in three main forms: cognitive, manual, and visual. Any type of distraction can cause serious issues for drivers and others on the road, but some can make it more difficult to operate a vehicle safely than others.
Manual distractions involve removing your hands from the wheel to address another task. When you remove your hands from the wheel, you decrease your ability to respond to issues on the road in front of you.
Visual distractions might not take your hands from the wheel, but they do take your eyes from the road. If you cannot see what other drivers do around you, you cannot respond effectively.
When you think about something besides driving, your attention drifts from the road. Cognitive distractions can put you on autopilot and, in many cases, prevent you from dealing with potential accident hazards as they arise.
Many common activities performed behind the wheel involve more than one type of distraction. Simply turning to look at a passenger in the next seat, for example, can indicate both visual and cognitive distraction. Managing these distractions remains critical to a safe driving experience.
Common Driver Distractions
When most people think of distracted driving, the first thing that comes to mind is usually cell phone use—most notably texting and driving. Texting and driving involve all three types of distraction: looking at a cellular device takes the driver’s eyes off of the road. Thinking about the text and formulating a response requires a cognitive distraction from the road ahead, while answering typically requires the driver to take at least one hand off of the wheel.
While texting and driving certainly represent a significant problem for drivers, including increasing accident risk by as much as 23 times, other distractions may also cause serious problems behind the wheel.
- Eating and drinking: Reaching over to snatch a few fries out of a bag fresh from the fast food drive-through takes your hands from the wheel for only a moment. In those moments, however, an accident can take you entirely by surprise. Worse, many people choose to eat more complex meals while behind the wheel. The messier a food grows as you eat it, the more it can distract you from driving.
- Putting on makeup. It’s time for the morning commute, and you’re running a little late. Surely you can finish putting on your makeup in the car, right? When you put on makeup in the car, however, you create both a visual and manual distraction: your hands lift to your face, rather than staying on the wheel, and your eyes drift to the mirror to check on your appearance.
- Adjusting the radio. Many newer vehicles now come with built-in radio controls on the steering wheel, which minimizes manual distractions. Changing music on your phone or adjusting it on the center dash, however, can lead to substantial distraction.
- Setting or looking at the GPS. GPS devices provide valuable help for people who struggle to reach their destinations on their own or who must drive in unfamiliar territory. At the same time, however, they can create substantial distractions for drivers who spend too much time looking at them: manual distractions, when drivers reach to program the device, and visual distractions, when they look down to check distance or destinations.
- Dealing with kids or pets. Any parent—whether of a child or of an animal—knows full well that children and pets can represent one of the most serious distractions in a vehicle. Kids want attention immediately. They drop items in the back seat, just out of their reach, or need to have difficult conversations at just the wrong moment. Pets may knock things over or bounce around the car, making it difficult for drivers to focus on the road.
- Passenger conversations. Some passengers are content to talk quietly, when convenient for the driver. Other passengers, however, choose the worst moments to demand the driver’s attention or try to suck them into a conversation. Passengers represent a more serious distraction for young drivers, who may not have the skills needed to tune them out, than they do for older, more experienced drivers.
- Personal cognitive distractions. You might remove all the physical distractions from your vehicle and still struggle to ignore all distractions in the car. If you catch yourself daydreaming, your attention might drift from the road. Not only that, many drivers struggle with distraction when they need to get to the bathroom in a hurry.
Avoiding Distraction Behind the Wheel
When you realize the potential consequences of driving distracted, you may want to remove as many distractions from your trip as possible. Try some of these strategies to help reduce distraction and reach your destination more safely.
Set your car up before you leave. Before you pull out of your parking space or driveway, take the time to set up everything in your vehicle. This includes:
- Setting the temperature controls to your preferred comfortable temperature.
- Setting your radio or playlist to a station you want to listen to.
- Adjusting your seat.
- Programming the GPS, if necessary.
Use a mounted GPS, rather than a handheld one. Your GPS provides valuable information to help you reach your destination, but that does not mean it does not also pose a distraction. Instead, use a dash-mounted GPS that you can position to easily take a quick look at the screen if needed during your journey. When possible, use auditory cues from your GPS rather than looking down. You should also program your GPS before leaving on your drive. If you need to program your GPS unexpectedly or you need to reprogram it in the middle of a trip, pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot—or let a passenger take care of the programming.
Teach the kids how to avoid distracting the driver. Kids will behave like kids, even when you teach them otherwise. Talking to them about driving safety early, however, will decrease the odds that they will distract you out on the road. Clearly discuss rules for when they ride in a car. Teach them to avoid screeching, and remind them that the driver cannot turn around to look at them or retrieve dropped items. Over time, your children will become more courteous passengers who cause fewer distractions on the road.
Restrain your pets. When you need to travel with an animal, restrain them in an appropriate carrying case or with a pet seat belt. Not only will this keep your pet safer, it will prevent them from wandering into your lap or causing a distraction on the road at a critical moment.
Turn your cell phone off. Put it in the back seat. Use an app designed to stop your phone from receiving text messages while you drive. Breaking the habit of texting or talking on your cell phone while driving can take time, especially if you frequently engaged in that behavior in the past. As you adapt to less distracted driving habits, do whatever it takes to avoid that common distraction.
Turn off notifications on your smartwatch. Smartwatches, which receive text messages straight from your phone, may cause more distraction than just looking at your cell phone while driving. A smartwatch usually has a smaller screen, which means that you will need to scroll through multiple lines of text, leaving your eyes off the road longer. Worse, you may need to take both hands from the wheel to check your smartwatch. By turning off your notifications while you drive, you can prevent yourself from growing distracted.
Choose food with care. Sometimes, you may not feel that you have a choice about when you eat or drink on the road. If possible, try to wait until you reach your destination to bite into that hamburger or sample the fries. If you must eat behind the wheel, make sure you choose foods easy to eat with one hand, that create a minimal mess. It will not just keep your car cleaner, it will also prevent a costly distraction while driving. If you choose to drink on the road, try to use a straw, rather than a cup that might obscure your face—and therefore your view of the road—when you take a drink.
Do not multitask on the road. In today’s fast-paced society, multitasking has grown increasingly common. Unfortunately, multitasking usually drags your attention from where you must focus it: Driving your car. Instead of multitasking, keep your eyes on the road. You can handle other tasks when you reach your destination.
Leave plenty of time to reach your destination and take care of other important tasks. When you have to take care of multiple tasks within a short span of time, you may struggle to keep your attention on the road. Leaving yourself plenty of time can smooth out your day and make it easier to manage your to-do list without taking your eyes, hands, or attention from driving.
Pull off the road if you need to. If you have a task that cannot wait, pull off to the side of the road or into a parking lot while you take care of it. This includes answering text messages and talking on your phone as well as dealing with kids and pets, checking your makeup, or taking care of other important tasks. It may take longer to reach your destination, but it will also make you safer.
Decreasing or even eliminating driver distraction on the road can help improve your safety and decrease your accident risk.
Suffer injuries in an accident with a distracted driver? Contacting a trusted personal injury attorney can help you better understand your rights.
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Clearwater, FL 33765
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