Shocking national statistics indicate that distracted driving kills over 3,000 people per year. Those same federal government statistics show that more than 400,000 people per year are injured in distracted driving accidents. These accidents are preventable; however, the national trend indicates that distracted driving accidents are on the rise. In short, this means that road users continue to make poor choices that result in distracted driving, ultimately leading to accidents that kill or injure themselves or others. While you can likely name some of the biggest driving distractions, there are many more than just those that make headlines, like Pokemon Go.
What Is Distracted Driving?
All states have a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which provides drivers with a definition of distracted driving. While states may differ a bit in their definitions, they are all consistent with the principle that distracted driving includes any activity that diverts a driver’s attention from the primary task of driving—yes, ANY activity.
Is Multitasking A Myth?
We’ve all heard people say, “I can drive and eat. It has no impact on my driving.” Or, “I can use my hands-free phone to make calls; it doesn’t detract from my driving ability.” Although most of us eat, talk on the phone and do other activities while driving, make no mistake: They are distractions. By trying to do more than one thing at a time, we increase the risk of an accident. Perhaps we don’t realize that we can’t do two activities at once and do them both well. Put another way, we still believe in the myth of multitasking.
We need to bust that myth wide open. The National Safety Council explains this very succinctly in an infographic about driving and multitasking. Here’s a short a summary: The human brain cannot do two things at once. Reading and understanding a book, for example, cannot be done while holding a phone conversation. The same principle applies to driving. You cannot simultaneously have a cellphone conversation and safely drive. Instead, the brain must switch back and forth between one activity and the other. Not only is the brain unable to do either task well, but in the event that you need to quickly apply the brakes, for example, your response will be delayed due to your brain’s slowed reaction time. Reaction time here means the amount of time it takes the brain to shift its focus from another activity back to driving. A recent AAA study reveals that people are distracted for 27 seconds after sending a voice text. That’s plenty of time for passing through a red light without noticing—and unquestionably dangerous.
What Are The 4 Types Of Distracted Driving?
DMVs across the country largely categorize distracted driving into four types. Understanding these will teach us how we can prevent accidents that might save someone else’s life—or our own.
Visual distractions are those that cause your eyes to wander off the road:
- Staring at a large billboard with a unique, colorful graphic
- Taking in the scenery
- Checking your GPS
- Putting on makeup
- Looking into the back seat to check on the kids
- Adjusting the temperature to a specific degree
- Looking for items on the floor or in the back seat (we’ve all done it or seen it)
- Looking at your cellphone for a missed call (or anything else)
Auditory distractions are those that cause your ears to be distracted from the road by other noises in or outside the car:
- Passengers’ conversations
- Sounds from the radio (e.g., music or even a car horn-like sound played by a DJ)
- Noises outside the car (especially dangerous in cities where many people walk or bike, while others yell distractingly from street corners and startle or surprise drivers)
- Voices coming from your hands-free devices
Manual distractions involve touching or manipulating something besides the wheel:
- Eating or drinking
- Searching through a bag or pocket for something and using your hand—not your eyes—to identify it (e.g., eye drop vials, house keys or your smartphone)
- Turning car knobs or pressing vehicle buttons
- Adjusting a child’s seat belt (or your own)
Cognitive distractions are those that make you think about something other than driving. Technically, all activities combine thinking and doing; even the smallest of tasks engages the brain in some level of thought (e.g., checking your GPS to identify where you should go, or figuring out if the noise you just heard is coming from your car or the car next to you). But here are some of the biggest cognitive distractions:
- Arguing with a passenger
- Getting upset by the actions of other drivers
- Working out a personal problem in your head
Texting is the mother of many evils because it combines distractions of every sort: You have to look at your phone (visual), consider what the person is texting (cognitive), think of a response (cognitive) and type your message back (visual, manual and cognitive). Alternatively, if you are texting through voice-activated technology, you have to listen (auditory), consider and determine your response (cognitive) and speak into the equipment to text back (cognitive and auditory).
Be a vigilant driver. Don’t expect your brain to engage in more than one activity at once—it physiologically can’t. Stay focused on the road when you’re in the driver’s seat. Everything else can wait until you stop, or if it can’t wait, simply pull over to a safe spot. If you get distracted, you could lose your life or cost someone else his life, even over a petty text. Please send this article to others, or just spread the word yourself. The implications of distracted driving are too serious to disregard. Safe travels.