Distracted driving occurs when a driver has his or her mind or attention on anything other than the road. Drivers may be distracted when they fiddle with the radio, answer a phone call or text while driving.
Distracted driving is currently a big problem in the United States because many accidents are caused by distracted drivers. This article will focus on the severity of the problem, identifying drivers who are at a high risk for distracted driving and tips on how to prevent yourself from becoming distracted while driving.
Types of Driver Distractions
Some of the most popular distractions while driving are listed below:
- Talking on the phone
- Using a navigation system
- Taking selfies or other photos
- Personal grooming or using mirrors to look at oneself
- Changing or programming radio stations.
The above actions are generally performed while a driver takes the eyes or at least one hand off the wheel. However, drivers may also be distracted by taking their minds off the road. For instance, a person in an emotional state may be focused on a personal problem or issue rather than on the road ahead. Drivers who are distracted by another driver’s bad driving could be hindered by emotions that prevent him or her from handling a vehicle. Even talking with someone else in the car could cause a distraction.
The Severity of the Problem
Most drivers would probably agree that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. However, some of those same drivers still engage in dangerous driving behaviors, whether they are using cell phones, reading or changing radio stations. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,166 people died as a result of distracted driving in the year 2017. DMV.org states that 481,000 people were using cell phones while driving in 2017. Because of the severity of the problem, most states now have laws against texting and driving. These laws are intended to help keep drivers focused on the road.
High Risk Groups
Teen drivers are more likely to engage in distracting behaviors. According to the website EndDistractedDriving.org, parents who drive while distracted are setting a bad example for kids. Teen drivers are more likely to engage in distracted behaviors if they have parents who do so.
In general, people who use cell phones while driving are in the biggest high risk group. Texting is an act that takes a driver’s eyes, hands and mind off the road, which makes it among the most distracting behaviors.
Because cell phone use is so distracting, many of the suggested prevention methods involve not using cell phones while driving. Some tips are as follows:
- Turn off your phone. This prevents it from ringing and distracting you. It also helps quell your urge to text or call someone.
- If someone else is riding with you, give your phone to them to hold.
- If you need your phone for GPS purposes, always pull over to check your location and to view the upcoming directions to take.
- Silencing your phone is often not enough. Even while placed on silent, a phone sitting in your lap or next to you will often buzz or light up, which tempts you to take your eyes off the road and look down at it. Rather, than silencing your phone, turn it off completely. It’s also a good idea to put it out of sight. This prevents you from reaching for it while driving.
- At times you may forget to turn off your phone before getting behind the wheel. In such cases, fight the urge to answer a ringing phone or to react to a text message signal. Keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. You can always look at your phone later when you are safely parked somewhere.
- If you’re taking a long trip and need to make a call or check your email, then pull over first.
- Never take photos of yourself or of anything else while driving. If you want a photo of a landmark or person, then pull over first.
Cell phone use isn’t the only distraction for drivers (though it may well be the biggest one). Using another GPS device besides the one on your phone could also be a distraction. If you have such a device, only use it while you are parked. Some drivers may think they can tune their device while driving in order to save time. However, this is dangerous. Typing in a new address requires you to take your eyes, hands and mind off the road for at least several seconds. This can cause an accident. It’s better to lose a little time by pulling over than to put yourself or others at risk of an accident.
Music and Audiobooks
Changing radio stations is another distraction. To prevent this one, try to keep your radio tuned to the same station for the length of your trip. This prevents you from fiddling with radio dials during your trip.
Observe the same practices for listening to audiobooks as you would for listening to radio stations. If you want to listen to a story while you drive, you must still be mindful of the road. If you find yourself so absorbed in the story that you’re drifting over the center line, then stop the car and shut off the audiobook. If you are able to keep focused on the road while listening to a story, try to stay tuned to the same story throughout your drive. Reaching down to select a new book from your library queue forces you to take your eyes, hands and mind off the road, which can cause an accident.
Try not to eat while driving. Eating requires you to take your hands and eyes off the road. Eating anything that requires utensils, such as knives, spoons or forks, will sometimes require you to take both hands off the road. Thus, it’s best to eat meals before or after driving. If you get hungry in the middle of a long car trip, pull over and eat at a restaurant. Or, eat a snack while parked somewhere.
Ask those who ride with you to respect your driving needs. For instance, you may naturally be a person who is easily distracted. If so, then make the people who ride with you aware of this.
If you’re driving a carload of people somewhere, ask them not to lean over the front seat to speak with you. Tell them to keep the noise to a minimum. If they have something important, exciting or upsetting to say, tell them to wait until you get to your destination. This can prevent your mind from wandering away from the road while driving.
Driving while Tired
A sleep-weary mind is also a distracted mind. If you know you have a long day of driving ahead of you, be sure to get an adequate amount of rest and sleep the night before. If you ever feel sleepy while driving, pull over to rest in a safe area. If you feel sleepy while on a long car trip, then get a room for the night and start fresh after you’ve rested. If you know that you’re guilty of getting sleep while driving, invite another licensed driver with you on car trips. This other driver can relieve you when you feel tired, and vice versa.
Driving a car comes with a lot of responsibility. You owe it to yourself and to other drivers to stay focused on the road. Focused drivers have faster reaction times and are less likely to get into accidents.