Every single day in the United States, nearly 9 people are killed and over 1160 are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. In 2013, the last year statistics are available, 3154 people were killed in distracted driver crashes, and 424,000 people were injured. Nearly 18% of injuries were caused by distracted drivers.
Common sense dictates that driving a vehicle is not a brainless task. You’re doing many things at one time – both mental and physical – such as monitoring your speed and direction, watching the traffic around you, watching the surrounding areas, and observing road conditions. You have very little room for error if you’re traveling at a high rate of speed. If something does happen, the results can be horrific. So then, why do we seem to take driving for granted and perform it mindlessly?
We all get complacent, that’s why. Driving is an activity that most of us perform every day, on the same exact routes we have hundreds of times before. It becomes routine, and you simply begin to think less about what could happen if something went awry. This results in a false sense of security, and an increased risk of distraction.
As we all know…everything is always okay until the moment it isn’t. A driver who isn’t paying attention to what they’re doing – their own car, the cars around them, and the road – is much more likely to get in an accident that results in property, injury, and possibly death.
We’re going to have a look at the common driving distractions, starting with the most likely to occur. If you are aware of the things that can distract you, you’re much more inclined to avoid them and drive in a safer manner.
I bet you thought that cellphone use or texting would be the number one cause of distracted driving! Actually, daydreaming, or simply being lost in thought and running on autopilot cause 62% of distracted drivers. You know what it’s like…you’re looking at the road, steering properly, but your mind is somewhere else. Your driving is so routine that you forget to be consciously present. And this spells trouble because when you’re not actively aware of what’s going on around you, your response time is much slower, and you may completely miss the warning signs of an impending accident.
Your odds of collision greatly increase when you’re using your cellphone while driving. In fact, 12% of all distracted driving accidents are due solely to cellphone use. It makes sense. If you are continually checking your phone, your eyes can’t stay on the road, and your attention wanders from where it should be. Many states now have cell phone use laws in place to prevent these types of distracted driving accidents from occurring.
Staring at something going on outside the vehicle, such as a car accident, animal crossing the road, etc. are responsible for nearly 7% of all distracted driving accidents. It’s good to be curious and observant, but not to the exclusion of your attention to your own driving and the road ahead of you.
When you’re driving with passengers, it’s natural to want to talk to them. But like anything else, they are potential distractions to your safe driving. If you turn to look at a passenger, that takes your attention from the road and the cars surrounding you. If you look in the rearview mirror at a passenger, it does the same thing. A moment is all it takes to cause an accident, so it pays to keep your eyes forward on the road.
Maybe there’s something in the car you think you need but it’s not right there at your fingertips, so you reach for it. Doing this is a big mistake. Taking your eyes off the road to search for something in your car, in the back seat, in a bag, etc. will not only distract you mentally, but you’ll physically be looking within your car, instead of at the road. If you need to find something that badly, pull over safely and stop before searching.
Eating or drinking while driving causes around 2% of all accidents related to distracted driving. Cup holders in your vehicle help by securing a place for your drink, but even reaching for your drink causes a momentary lapse in attention. Eating is, not surprisingly, even worse for distracting your attention from the road. Wrappers must be opened, food drops onto your clothing and car, and it’s all just a recipe for disaster. If you’re hungry, go through the drive-thru, pull over, and take five minutes to eat. You’ll arrive at your destination both full and in one piece.
While driving, you do need to occasionally make adjustments. Radio volume, climate control, navigation devices, seat position…these are all things that do require our attention while we’re driving. The key here is to make adjustments that are absolutely necessary, and doing it quickly while paying more attention to the road than you do on the adjustment. If an adjustment isn’t necessary, hold off until you’re stopped. This is especially true at night when it’s harder to see to begin with. It also bears pointing out that when you have a new vehicle, get completely familiar with all the controls, their locations, and how they work before you begin driving. Don’t try to figure it out when you’re driving off the lot.
Anything moving inside your vehicle is going to be a distraction, from a bee to a dog. If you find yourself in a position where there’s something in your vehicle that is distracting you, like an insect, pull over, stop, and deal with it, instead of swatting around while you’re trying to drive. Keep pets in the appropriate carrier within the vehicle when possible.
Smoking isn’t just bad for your health, it’s also bad for your attention when you’re driving. One in one hundred accidents is caused by smoking while driving. Lighting a cigarette takes your attention off the road, as does a live burning ember that you drop in your car.