While drunk driving, speeding, and road rage often nab the headlines, the data reveals that distracted driving is really the most dangerous threat to the safety of our roads.
Data gathered by the NHTSA shows that distracted driving was responsible for at least 3,155 deaths in 2017 (and hundreds of thousands of additional injuries). And, at least for now, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction.
Though drivers can be distracted by any number of causes, behaviors, or stimuli, there are ultimately three common types that stand out more than the rest.
Let’s take a look at how you can identify and avoid them when you’re behind the wheel:
1. Visual Distractions
As the name indicates, these are distractions that take your eyes off the road and require you to perform visual “double-duty” when driving. Mobile devices and electronics are among the most common visual diversions.
“While drivers can face many different distractions in the car, cell phones are the most common – and deadliest – distraction,” Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C. explains. “Texting while driving, for instance, can drastically increase your risk of being involved in an accident. People who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.”
According to the NHTSA, sending or reading a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds at a time. When traveling 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Other visual distractions include fidgeting with the radio dial and looking at GPS directions. It doesn’t have to involve electronics, though. You can just as easily become distracted by a passing billboard or blue lights on the side of the road.
The best way to avoid smartphone-related distractions is to turn your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode while driving. And if you must use your phone, be sure to use a hands-free solution.
2. Manual Distractions
Manual distractions aren’t discussed as much as visual culprits, but they’re just as dangerous. They consist of anything that requires a driver to take one or both hands off the wheel in order to perform an action or task. Examples include:
- Eating fast food
- Attempting to locate an item in your purse
- Reaching into a briefcase in the backseat
- Trying to break up a fight between quarreling kids
- Handing snacks to a toddler in the backseat
Manual distractions are dangerous because they compromise both your focus and your physical ability to drive. While you might be capable of driving with one hand under most circumstances, all it takes is a sudden lane change or an unexpected red light to put you in a compromising situation.
The best way to defeat manual distractions is to prevent the temptation. This means keeping your purse/briefcase in the trunk; never getting fast food to go; and setting clear expectations with passengers (particularly little ones).
3. Cognitive Distractions
This third category gets ignored a lot of times, but it’s one of the major causes of distraction-related car accidents.
A cognitive distraction is anything that takes your mind off of your primary obligation: driving. It may include a podcast or audio book, conversation with someone in the passenger’s seat, or a preoccupation with a work project or relationship issue.
While most people are able to drive while thinking about other things, it can become an issue in scenarios where you need to make split-second decisions. Cognitive distractions slow reaction time and can pose a threat under these circumstances.
Cognitive distractions are arguably the most difficult kind to prevent. If you find that you’re easily distracted by podcasts and audiobooks, try the radio instead. If in-cabin conversations hold your mind hostage, try driving alone. The more proactive you are about these culprits, the safer you’ll be.
Say Goodbye to Distracted Driving
Distracted driving might be rampant, but you don’t have to be a willing participant. Now that you’re aware of the major causes of distracted driving, you can implement proactive strategies and techniques to ensure you no longer succumb to these dangerous and deadly diversions. Do your part to make our roads safer!