You heard it in your driver’s ed class and again from your parents, coworkers, spouse and friends: pay attention to the road. Despite having it drilled into your head, this can sometimes be easier said than done. Perhaps you’re running late for work and decide to eat your breakfast while driving, or you get caught up checking the map on your phone instead of keeping your hands on the wheel. It happens to everyone, right?
When we think of distracted driving, our minds usually go to a driver typing away on a cell phone and paying more attention to their texts than the road, not something like eating or daydreaming. While texting while driving is a serious problem, it isn’t the only case where distracted driving can happen. In fact, there are three types of distracted driving that drivers can engage in: manual, visual and cognitive.
Let’s learn more about the types of distracted driving and what you can do to stay safe while on the road.
Manual distractions occur when you take your hands off the wheel to try to complete another task. Some of these distractions include:
- Putting on makeup
- Eating food
- Typing on your cell phone
- Drinking (or spilling) a beverage
- Adjusting the radio
When you’re driving, what can you do to keep your hands on ten and two? Use these tips to avoid major manual distractions:
- Keep everything within reach. Keep all important items within an arm’s reach at any given point. Trying to stretch to reach something in the back seat can be a huge safety hazard and can take your eyes off the road for a significant amount of time. If something falls onto the floorboard, either wait to pick it up or pull your car over before you retrieve it. Bending down can make you pull the steering wheel accidentally, which could cause you to veer off of the road.
- Eat before getting on the road. It’s easy to go through the drive-thru to grab a burger or burrito and eat while on the road, but it isn’t necessarily safe. One study found that drivers who are drinking or eating are 3.6 times more likely to be in an accident than drivers who are putting their full attention into driving. If possible, hold off on eating a meal until you are sitting down without the distraction of the road around you.
- Get comfy before you drive. It can be difficult to get comfortable while in your car, leading you to adjust your seatbelt, headrests, seat height or mirrors. All of these adjustments take your hands off of the wheel and can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. As soon as you get into your car, take a minute or two to make any necessary adjustments before you head out of your parking spot and onto the road.
When you look anywhere that isn’t the road, you’re experiencing a visual distraction. These can take many forms:
- Distracting items on the dashboard
- Looking away to see a wreck or other distraction
- Turning your head during a conversation
- Looking down at your phone
- Checking your map
There are several steps you can take to avoid becoming distracted when you’re on the road. Try these tips for your next trip:
- Set your route before you start driving. Many of us use map apps on our phones to get from point A to point B, but this can often take our eyes away from the road. If you miss a turn or exit, allow the map to redirect you before you start adjusting the app.
- Pull your car over if you need to use your full attention. If you receive an important text or email, pull your car over before you start reading. Drivers going 55 miles per hour can cover a football field in the time it takes to read a text. Don’t convince yourself that it’s a short message or that it would only take a second — is your life really worth one email or text?
- Be careful while conversing. When having a conversation, our natural instinct is to look at the person we’re talking to. This can be dangerous while driving, as it takes your full attention from the road. When driving, either make a commitment to not look at your passenger or avoid talking while driving. Though it may seem extreme, even brief seconds of distraction can cause major accidents.
If you have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, that’s all you need, right? In reality, being distracted mentally can be worse than both of the previous factors combined. Cognitive distractions include:
- Getting lost in thought
- Getting into an argument
- Road rage
- Driving under the influence
Needing some advice on how to avoid cognitive distractions? Find out what you can do to be safer on the road:
- Don’t rely on handsfree devices. Many of us use Bluetooth devices to talk while in the car, assuming that it’s safer since it is handsfree. However, driving while talking is just as distracting regardless of whether you’re actually holding the phone or not. Brains are very bad at multitasking, and you still run the risk of getting into a crash while using a handsfree device.
- Stay calm. When drivers around you are behaving erratically or cut you off, it’s natural to become upset. Don’t let that fury simmer and turn into road rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that aggressive driving played a part in 56% of fatal crashes between 2003 and 2007, signaling a major risk for angered drivers. Take a few deep breaths and listen to calming music as you drive, remembering that everyone makes mistakes while driving.
- Be rested. You’ve probably heard that driving while tired is the same as driving while drunk, but few of us treat drowsy driving as deadly. In reality, drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes and 800 deaths in 2013 alone. If you begin to feel tired while driving, pull over for the night and find a hotel or get home as soon as possible. Prevent fatigue by getting at least seven hours of sleep and establishing a set sleep schedule each night.
Have you been injured due to the carelessness of a distracted driver?
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