Driver Distractions

Distractions Are Everywhere

Driving is a skill that requires your full attention to safely control your vehicle and respond to events happening on the roads around you. Driving involves constant and complex coordination between your mind and body. Events or things that prevent you from operating your car safely are distractions. There are 3 types of distractions and they are anything that takes your:

  • Eyes off the road (visual).
  • Mind off the road (cognitive).
  • Hands off the steering wheel (manual).

When you think about the actions you make in your vehicle, other than just driving, you can see that they often involve more than one type of distraction. For instance, if you change your radio station, you take a hand off the steering wheel to press a button, and take your eyes off the road to look at what button you want to press.

Driving Distractions Study

Driver distractions are the leading cause of most vehicle collisions and near collisions. According to a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), 80 percent of collisions and 65 percent of near collisions involve some form of driver distraction. The distraction occurred within 3 seconds before the vehicle crash!

According to the NHTSA and VTTI study, the principal actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle collision are:

  • Using electronic devices.
  • Reaching for an object inside the vehicle.
  • Looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle.
  • Eating.
  • Applying cosmetics (makeup).

Drivers who engage more frequently in distracted driving are more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash or near collision.

“Dial D ” for Disaster

Cell phone use is part of everyday life that many times we do not realize when, where, and how often we are utilizing our “cellular phones.” Cell phone use while driving has increased significantly within the last few years.

Studies have shown that driving performance is lowered and the level of distraction is higher for drivers engaged in cell phone conversations. The use of a hands-free device does not lower distraction levels. The percentage of vehicle collisions and near collisions attributed to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening.

Make and finish your cell phone calls or texts before you start your vehicle and drive. If your phone rings while you are driving, let your voice mail pick up the call and ignore text messages. If you must respond, pull over to a safe location and park before using your cell phone.

Drivers under 18 years old may not use any type of hand-held or hands-free wireless phone while driving.

Effective January 1, 2017, it is illegal to drive while holding and using an electronic wireless communications device, unless the device is mounted on the windshield similar to a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, or is mounted or attached to, a vehicle’s dashboard or center console as long as it does not hinder the view of the road. The driver may use a feature or function with the motion of a single swipe or touch. This does not apply to manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in a vehicle.

New Technology

Your vehicle may be equipped with various new technologies including technology that allows you to have cell phone conversations or play music from an electronic device in hands-free mode. Manufacturers are trying to make your driving experience more convenient by surrounding vehicles with technology. With the increase of such technologies, it is important to remain aware of the road and avoid distractions. With any technology in your vehicle, ensure you learn about its functions and how to properly use it without adding distractions to your driving experience.

Are You Eating a Crash Diet?

If you are eating in your vehicle while driving, you are focusing on your food and not on your driving. You are not only chewing and swallowing; you are also opening packages, unwrapping and re-wrapping food, reaching, leaning, spilling, wiping, and cleaning yourself or your vehicle. These are quite a number of distractions for one driver on one trip. You are safer when you stop to eat or drink. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop, rest from driving, and enjoy your meal.

Are You Being Driven to Distraction?

What do children, friends, and pets all have in common? All can be dangerous distractions while driving.

Teach your young children that driving is an important job and that you must concentrate when you are behind the wheel. Buckle up your children properly. Give them distractions—books, games, or other appropriate toys to occupy their time. If you need to attend to your children, pull over to a safe place. Do not try to handle children while you are driving.

When you are driving with friends and relatives, establish some strategies to keep your passengers under control. A carload of friends can be very distracting with loud talking, quarreling over music selections, or roughhousing. Arguments and other disturbing conversations should be held in a safe, appropriate place, not while you are driving in your vehicle.

A loose pet in a moving vehicle can be very dangerous. Properly secure your pet in a pet carrier, portable kennel, or specially designed pet harness when you are driving.

Turning Dials Can Turn Your Head

Making destination entries on an in-vehicle navigation system, radio surfing for a good song, or adjusting your vehicle’s climate controls are distracting activities that can put you in danger of a vehicle collision or near collision. The availability of in-vehicle Internet and email access from cell phones, tablets, and other portable devices are added distractions that increase your risk of a collision if you engage in these activities while driving.

  • Adjust your vehicle’s controls (climate controls, mirrors, radio, seat, etc.) before you begin to drive.
  • Check your email, voice mail, and text messages before you begin to drive.
  • Take advantage of normal stops to adjust controls.
  • Ask your passenger to adjust the radio, climate control, navigation system, etc. for you.

Looks Can Kill…

Looking out your window at what you are passing while driving can be a distraction if you are concentrating on:

  • An accident.
  • A vehicle pulled over by law enforcement.
  • Construction work.
  • A billboard advertisement.
  • A scenic view.
  • Street names and addresses.

Always focus on your driving. It is crucial that you remain alert while on the road to arrive at your destination safely.

Distractions and Young Drivers

The leading cause of death for 15–20 year olds are vehicle collisions. Vehicle collisions make up approximately one-third of all deaths for this age group. More collisions occur when passengers, usually other teens, are in the vehicle with a teen driver. Statistics show 2 out of 3 teens die as passengers in a vehicle driven by another teen.

These statistics are caused by a teen’s immaturity, driving inexperience, overconfidence, and risk-taking behaviors. Before your teen takes to the road, explain to them the dangers of engaging in distracting activities and driving. Many teens do not see the connection between the things that distract them and their age group’s high rate of vehicle collisions and death.

Give your teen strategies and rules to help them keep their passengers under control. No roughhousing, provoking the driver to speed, or engaging in any other type of dangerous activity while riding in a vehicle.

Instruct your teen to set up their radio, CD player, iPod or any other music playing device before driving and to play the music at a listening level that is not distracting. Regardless of age, it is illegal to wear headphones or earplugs in both ears when driving a motor vehicle or riding a bicycle.

Talk with your teen about how to deal with driving distractions. Discuss what could happen if they try to answer a cell phone, send a text message, search for music, or spill a drink on themselves while they are driving. Explain the importance of driving safely and staying alive.

Other Deadly Distractions

In this age of multi-tasking, it is common to do more than one task at the same time. You already multi-task when you are driving; your mind and body are working simultaneously to drive your vehicle. You should not add another task on top of what you already need to do to drive safely. These tasks should never be done while you are driving:

  • Reading a newspaper, book, or map.
  • Personal grooming, such as hair grooming, shaving, or applying makeup.
  • Smoking, lighting up, or putting out a cigarette.
  • Working in your car: typing on a laptop, making business calls, and writing notes or reports.

Undistracted Driving

When driving, the condition of the road and the behavior of other drivers can change abruptly, leaving you little or no time to react. When you are driving, follow these rules:

  • Stay focused.
  • Pay attention.
  • Expect the unexpected.

These tips can help you continue to drive and arrive at your destination safely:

  • Ensure all passengers are wearing a safety belt properly.
  • Be well-rested and in the appropriate mindset to drive. Driving while you are upset or angry can be just as dangerous as driving when you are tired.
  • Identify and reduce distractions when you are driving.
  • Do not tailgate.
  • Allow sufficient time to reach your destination.
  • Ensure your vehicle is properly maintained.

Driver distractions reduce your awareness to the driving environment, your decision-making process, and your driving performance. This results in collisions or near collisions that require you and/or other drivers on the road to take corrective actions. Drive safe and stay alive. Keep your mind on driving, your eyes on the road, and your hands on the wheel!