In today's busy world, many people find themselves multitasking just to have enough time in the day to get everything done. The daily commute is a popular time for squeezing in extra tasks, or getting in touch with people. You've probably been stuck behind someone driving erratically as they ate breakfast on the go, or been nearly rear-ended by a driver on their cell phone. Maybe you've almost missed an exit because of the conversation you were having with a passenger. These distractions contribute significantly to the danger on the road: nearly 1 in 5 of automobile accidents with injuries in 2010 were reported as "distraction-affected" crashes. That's why the National Safety Administration has declared April to be Distracted Driving Awareness Month, to help drivers realize the dangers of distractions on the road.
Almost anything can distract you enough while driving to take your attention away from the road and contribute to an accident – anyone would be distracted if a wasp flew in their window at a red light, but some people have found surprising ways to distract themselves while driving, like reading a book or watching a movie! Here are ten of the most common and most dangerous causes of distracted driving.
1. Text Messaging
While any activity that draws your attention away from the road is dangerous, sending and receiving text messages or checking email on a mobile device presents an even greater danger, as it involves all three types of driving distractions:
- Visual distraction – Taking your eyes off the road
- Manual distraction – Removing your hands from the steering wheel
- Cognitive distraction – Pulling your attention and focus away from the task of driving the vehicle.
Because text messaging demands the use of your eyes, your hands, and your mind, it is very easy to become dangerously distracted while texting. Most people realize this, but more than one third of drivers have texted while driving, and 18 percent of drivers admit to doing so on a regular basis. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), texting while driving raises the risk of a crash for truck drivers by a factor of 23.
Texting while driving is dangerous enough that 37 states and Washington, D.C. ban text messaging for all drivers; in most of these states, this ban is a primary enforcement law – police can pull drivers over and cite them even if this is the only traffic violation they are committing. New Jersey has a primary enforcement ban on text messaging for all drivers.
2. Talking on a Cell Phone
A Carnegie Mellon University study demonstrated that carrying on a cell phone conversation reduced the amount of brain activity associated with operating the vehicle by 37 percent. This cognitive distraction is a major contributor to distracted driving – in fact, a University of Utah study reported that drivers on cell phones had worse reaction times than drivers with a BAC level of 0.08, enough for a DUI citation.
Many drivers use a hands-free device to carry on cell phone conversations without taking their hands away from the steering wheel. In fact, several states have passed laws making this the only legal way for a driver to use a cell phone. However, this does NOT significantly reduce the cognitive distraction caused by the cell phone conversation.
3. Using a Navigation System, GPS Device, or Map
A recent California court ruling concluded that using a smartphone's GPS navigation function constitutes distracted driving under the state's laws against cell phone use by drivers, and other states may consider this ruling when applying their own distracted driving laws. Taking your eyes away from the road to refer to a map or navigation device is a significant source of driver distraction, especially if the device or map also requires the use of your hands to manipulate.
4. Eating or Drinking
Whether it's a morning cup of coffee on the way to work, a quick "refueling" stop during a road trip, or a hurried meal on the way to an event, a majority of drivers occasionally eats or drinks while driving. The danger of distraction increases as the messiness of the food increases – if it might spill, drip, or burn, or if it requires two hands to eat, it's a particular distraction hazard.
Not only does smoking involve manual distraction as the driver periodically disposes of ashes, but the burning ash and cigarette itself present a distraction hazard. It goes without saying that lighting a cigarette while driving is a major distraction that should be avoided.
6. Adjusting the Radio or Music System
Another common distraction for drivers is the radio. Whether you're changing the station, adjusting the volume, putting in a new CD, or changing the playlist on your iPod, you're taking both your eyes and your hands away from the task of driving.
7. Conversing with Passengers
Talking to other people in the car can distract you in much the same way that talking on a cell phone can. Listening to a conversation causes similar levels of cognitive distraction as cellular phone use. The danger of distraction from conversations with people in the car may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that an adult passenger is likely also paying some attention to the road, and may tone down the conversation during moments of difficult driving, but overall, the level of distraction from conversation remains significant.
8. Managing the Behavior of Children or Pets
Unlike adults, who realize when you need to focus on traffic, children and animals are unaware of the demands of driving. Arguing siblings or dogs trying to climb out the window or into your lap are dangerous distractions.
9. Grooming Activities
As many as 1 in 5 drivers admit to combing or styling their hair while driving. Other drivers apply make-up or even shave during their commute. If your eyes are on your reflection, they're not on the road, and a split second is all it takes to cause an accident.
10. Daydreaming or Dealing with Strong Emotions
Sometimes all it takes to cause distracted driving is a passing thought. If other matters are weighing heavily on your mind, the cognitive distraction may significantly impair your attentiveness to the road. Drivers in the grip of strong emotions or distracted by unrelated ideas may be more likely to speed, or miss critical details.
Please realize that driving a 3,000-pound vehicle in a dangerous manner can be termed assault with a deadly weapon in criminal court! Be aware of the pitfalls of distracted driving. Protect the safety of your loved ones and all other drivers. If you have to text, or put an address in your GPS system or cell phone, or take a call, or apply make-up, PULL OVER AND PARK! Do what you have to do, then drive safely. Don't hesitate to honk your horn at a distracted driver engaging in dangerous activities - be it talking on the phone, or whatever. If you are the victim of a car accident caused by a distracted driver and suffer injuries, do not hesitate to call me at 888-233-1272, I love to press these cases on behalf of my clients, because there is no excuse for distracted driving. None.