#JustDrive: April Is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Distracted Driving Goes Beyond Texting

While a number of factors can lead to a crash (e.g., impaired driving, poor road conditions, and adverse weather) distracted driving is a common, preventable cause of accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts a person’s attention away from driving.

In 2019, distracted driving killed 3,142 people – up 10% from 2018. Despite young drivers seemingly being more prone to using their phones while driving, distracted driving effects everyone. According to NHTSA research from 2017, drivers 16 to 24 years old have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007 but, make no mistake, drivers in other age groups don’t lag far behind.

Major Types of DistractionsEye Icon

Visual Distractions

These are any distraction that takes your eyes off the road and commonly include:

  • Using electronic devices such as a GPS,  radio, cellphone, or laptop
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking
  • Focusing attention on visual distractions outside the vehicle such as collisions, police activity, street signs, pedestrians, construction, or billboards

Physical Distractionsmanual icon

Physical distractions are any that cause the driver of a vehicle to take their hands off the wheel. Without both hands on the wheel, it’s very difficult to control a vehicle. This can also affect your reaction time, increasing the odds of a crash. These types of distractions  include:

  • Eating/drinking
  • Hold and talking on handheld phone
  • Reaching into the passenger or back seat to grab an item
  • Applying makeup or shaving

Cognitive DistractionsCognitive Icon

Cognitive distractions can be harder to recognize as they cause a driver to think about something other than driving. These are especially dangerous as drivers often have a false sense of security. In their mind, they have their hands on the wheel and therefore aren’t driving distracted. Distractions like these include:

  • Daydreaming or multitasking
  • Winning that earlier argument in your head
  • Exhaustion or drowsiness

Multiple Distractions

Some distractions may involve more than one type of distraction at once. For instance, texting and driving can take both your eyes and mind off the road. It takes an average of five seconds to read or send a text. During that time, a vehicle going 55 miles per hour can travel the length of a football field.

Prevention Tips

Know Your Car

Taking the time to learn the ins-and-outs of your vehicle can reduce the need to take your eyes off the road. For instance, drivers should know where their windshield wipers switch is that way, in a storm, they don’t need to take their eyes off the road to find the switch. If the vehicle you’re in is not yours (e.g., rented vehicles) take the extra time to get to know the car before you hit the road.

Plan Ahead

Make any necessary adjustments BEFORE you drive. Minimize the potential for distractions by planning your routes. Research your drive ahead of time to eliminate the need for GPS, maps and other navigation tools. This can also involve:

  • Adjusting your rearview and side mirrors
  • Preparing a playlist
  • Answering any important texts or emails
  • Eating

Avoid Multitasking

When behind the wheel your job is to drive safely. As part of this responsibility, and for your own safety, do not do anything that distracts you from the road. While you drive, actively scan the road using your mirrors to watch out for other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. If you need to make a phone call or respond to a text message on the road, pull over beforehand. Even the use of a hands-free device is dangerous and can create a cognitive distraction.  Plan your meals in advance and avoid more than snacking while you drive.

Be a Good Passenger 

If you are a passenger in a vehicle, do your part: o Don’t be the cause of a distraction. o Speak up if the driver is being distracted. o Do things on behalf of the driver. This can including adjusting the music, setting up navigation systems, and answering phone calls and text messages.