5 Things to Know About Distracted Driving

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According to statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,140 Americans died due to distracted drivers in 2019. Around 424,000 were injured in accidents in the same year. Nine people are killed in this country every day because of crashes reportedly involving a distracted driver. 

Understanding the ramifications of distracted driving can be lifesaving. The following are five important facts to know. 

1. Young Adults and Teens Are Most At Risk

Among all age groups, young adults and teen drivers tend to be most at risk for distracted driving. Regarding the deadly distracted driving crashes in 2019, a higher percentage of drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were distracted than drivers who were at least 21. Among younger drivers, 9% were distracted when they got into a crash. 

In a 2019 survey of high school students in the U.S., 39% reported having driven in the past 30 days while texting or emailing. 

Students who said they’d texted or emailed while behind the wheel were also more likely to report other transportation-related risk behaviors. For example, they were more likely to report not always wearing their seatbelt, and they said they were more likely to drive after having alcohol. 

2. There Are Three Types of Distractions

When you’re driving, anything that’s going to take your attention away from being behind the wheel is a distraction. These can be grouped into three distinct categories.  

A visual distraction is where you take your eyes off the road. Manual distractions mean you’re taking your hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions are anything taking your mind from your driving. 

If you’re going 55 mph, reading or sending a text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field but having your eyes closed while doing so. 

3. Cellphones Are the Biggest Distraction

The federal government estimates that around 7.9% of drivers use hands-free or hand-held phones at any moment of the day. 

Surveys show the rate of drivers texting or using hand-held devices during the day has more than doubled from 2011. 

People who use their phones more often while driving is often associated with being riskier drivers in other areas. For example, in a study from IIHS, the drivers who spent the most amount of time behind the wheel interacting with a cellphone had the highest rates of crashes and near-crashes. 

In a study done on the road, drivers who reported often using their phones changed lanes more often, drove faster, and did more hard-braking than drivers who said they rarely used them while driving. 

Almost all the experimental studies that have been done so far using driving simulators show that driver performance is affected by the cognitive distractions that come from tasks on the phone. In an analysis of 28 experimental studies, typing or reading texts slowed reaction time significantly, increased the length of time drivers looked away from the roadway, and increased lane deviations. 

Using a phone can also impact how a driver scans and then processes what’s happening on the road. A driver generally takes their eyes off the road to use a phone. Drivers who are engaged in conversations will tend to concentrate their eyes toward the center of the roadway, but their attention still isn’t entirely on driving, so it makes it harder to process what they’re looking at. 

Researchers have found brain activity associated with attention and processing is suppressed when a driver is experiencing a cognitive distraction. Cognitive distractions can lead to something called inattention blindness. Inattention blindness is when a driver can’t process or comprehend information in the roadway even though they’re looking right at them. 

4. Other Causes of Distracted Driving

While phones and texting are the major culprits for distracted driving, there are others as well. 

Other major distractions include:

  • GPS—we’re used to relying on our GPS to get us from one place to the next. However, setting up your GPS route while you’re driving is just as dangerous as texting. If you’re going to use a GPS, you should mount it in front of you where you can see it easily. You should turn up the volume so you can hear the directions rather than having to keep looking at the screen. 
  • Adjusting controls—whether it’s the music or temperatures, adjusting anything in your car is taking your attention away from driving. No matter how small it could seem, just a split second of inattention can increase the risk of being in an accident. 
  • Makeup and grooming—if you’re using your commute time to apply makeup or do any sort of grooming, you might be putting yourself and other people on the roads at risk. 
  • Talking to people in the car—whether it’s friends, your spouse, or your kids if you’re in the car with other people, you’re probably going to be talking to them. That’s normal, but you also have to remember that the first priority is focusing on your driving. 
  • Zoning out—if you’re daydreaming when you’re driving, especially on a long commute or when you’re on a familiar route, you may realize that you went for miles without even thinking about what was happening, which is dangerous. 

5. Distracted Driving Is Avoidable

While distracted driving is a major risk in the U.S. and can be deadly, it’s also something that’s avoidable and largely within your control. You can’t control other drivers, but if you’re paying attention and avoiding distractions, you’re going to be better able to maneuver around dangerous drivers or avoid difficult situations. 

When you’re behind the wheel, you should never use your phone. If you have an emergency, pull over. Remember that even a hands-free phone can still cause you to miss the cues you need to avoid a crash, including both visual and auditory cues. 

If you’re tired, get off the road. Limit the number of passengers you have in the car at any given time. 

Don’t eat or drink while you drive, and never multi-task when you’re behind the wheel.

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