As our phones and cars become ever-increasingly smarter and more capable of the myriad of tasks we ask of them, so grows our dependence on technology and the temptation to use it while we’re behind the wheel of a vehicle. And sadly, each year, more and more accidents and fatalities are attributed to distracted driving. In fact, in 2019, distracted driving killed 3,124 people which was a shocking 10% increase over 2018. In an attempt to curb distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has deemed April – Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
What Is It?
Distracted driving is any type of activity that diverts the attention of the driver away from the road and can include auditory distractions, physical distractions, visual distractions and cognitive distractions. We’ll dive deeper into how each of these defined as well as examples below.
Auditory distractions encompass sounds and noises that cause the driver to lose attention from driving. They can include hearing kids arguing or a baby crying in the backseat, music turned up loudly, a phone ringing or a notification from a smartphone. Auditory distractions can mask an alert to the driver of an oncoming danger such as the whistle of a train approaching, the horn honking of another vehicle or the sirens of an emergency vehicle entering an intersection.
When we think of distracted driving, we often think of physical distractions… eating or drinking behind the wheel, texting while driving, changing the radio station or talking on the phone. We don’t often picture holding a dog in your lap while driving as being distracted driving but the truth is, anything that takes one or both hands off the wheel can be a dangerous distraction and keep you from being able to react quickly if need arises.
Visual distractions are anything that takes your eyes from safely scanning the road ahead or checking your mirrors. These distractions include not only things inside the vehicle, such as reading a text or looking at a passenger, but also pertain to looking at things outside the vehicle, such as gawking at an accident or reading billboards. Anything that disrupts your visual attention and your focus away from driving is considered a visual distraction.
Often overlooked, cognitive distractions take place when you let your mind wander while you are behind the wheel. Have you ever been driving along and found yourself daydreaming, only to realize you’ve been driving along in autopilot without truly registering what was happening around you? That’s cognitive distracted driving. Other examples can be mulling over a task, planning an activity, worrying and even road rage at another driver.
How Can We Prevent It?
The most effective way to prevent distracted driving is to take personal responsibility for our own actions while we are behind the wheel, every time we are behind the wheel and refuse to take part in any activity that will take our attention from the main focus of driving. In addition, recognizing that teens of parents who drive distracted are two to four times as likely to drive distracted themselves, it’s important to set a good example for young eyes that are watching you.
As the driver of the vehicle, you are responsible for not only the people riding in your vehicle but also for maintaining control of your vehicle in a safe and legal manner. While most states have some type of restrictions on cell phone use while driving, even if yours does not, make the wise decision to put your phone away, either in a compartment or bag that can’t be easily reached to avoid the temptation to check it when you receive a notification or to make a phone call. And instead, make the pledge to not to drive distracted and set expectations with your teen driver that using their phone or driving distracted is simply not acceptable. You never know whose life you might end up saving.
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