Drivers on the road today have the most temptation to commit distracted driving than ever before. From fast food drive-thrus to car settings and everything in between, our attention is stretched thin. No matter how good at multitasking we may seem, when we split our attention between activities, we make more mistakes. It is your job to stay informed and stay attentive on the road, so you don’t make a fatal mistake.
Just how big is the issue of Distracted Driving? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 400,000 people are injured and 3,000 people die from accidents involving distracted driving every year. Although car safety advancements have improved passenger survivability rates, 1 in 5 people who die in distracted driving accidents are pedestrians or cyclists. Thousands of lives are claimed each year due to distracted driving-related incidents that are entirely preventable.
What Exactly is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving happens when a motorist’s focus is diverted from driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classifies distracted driving into three categories: visual, manual, and cognitive. Any of these forms of distracted driving will reduce your reaction time, decrease your perception, and have a negative impact on your judgment.
Visual distractions cause you to take your eyes off the road. If you are driving 55mph and look away from the road for five seconds to program navigation, adjust the radio or grab something from the backseat, you will travel approximately the length of a football field before your vision returns to the road.
Taking one or both hands off the wheel is an example of a manual distraction. Eating, drinking, smoking, and even adjusting car settings such as AC are primary reasons why people surrender control of their vehicle when driving. Research by the NHTSA and CDC conclude that a driver increases their chance of being involved in a crash when reaching for an object by 800%.
Anything that takes your mind away from driving would fall under the cognitive category of distracted driving. Whether you are daydreaming, talking to fellow passengers, or thinking about something other than driving would qualify as distracted driving. When your mind is focused on anything other than driving, there is a loss of brain activity in the areas of your brain required to safely operate a vehicle. This inactivity increases your chance of making a driving error which can lead to an accident.
Today’s Drivers Keep Reaching for Their Phones while Behind the Wheel
Texting while driving is one of the most prominent and dangerous forms of distracted driving because it is an activity that falls under all three categories of distracted driving. In fact, in the United States, 1 in 4 car accidents are caused by a driver who is texting. In 2021, The Zebra surveyed American drivers and while 36.4 percent agree that using a cellphone while driving hinders your ability to drive, 36 percent admit to mobile device use while being behind the wheel. To put that into perspective, at any given point during the day, over 650,000 people are simultaneously driving a vehicle and using their cell phones.
In addition to that startling statistic, teen and young adult drivers with the least experience on the road are the most prone to engage in cell phone use while driving. 21 percent of fatal accidents involving teen drivers report they were distracted by their cell phones. Despite the knowledge of how dangerous cell phone use is while driving, a 2019 CDC survey recorded 39 percent of high school students who drove in the past month texted or emailed while behind the wheel.
Modern car technology includes hands-free accessories that seem to give drivers the best of both worlds: staying safe on the road and communicating via their mobile device. In fact, 53 percent of drivers agree that these hands-free advancements are truly safe, but unfortunately, that is not true. While these accessories prevent the trifecta of visual, manual and cognitive distracted driving, you are still focusing on something other than driving. Even if a driver is using hands-free technology, they will only process 50 percent of what is happening around them on the road because their focus is on the conversation and not driving.
How to Help End Distracted Driving
It is up to each person to prevent all forms of distracted driving. Here are a few ways you can help:
Passengers: Don’t be silent if you are in a vehicle with a distracted driver, speak up if you see a friend or family member behaving dangerously behind the wheel. Passengers can also play a key role in avoiding distracted driving by handling navigation, adjusting AC, and controlling the radio so the driver can keep their focus on the road. Even if you are not the driver, you can help others to remain attentive behind the wheel.
Parents: Set a good example for your children by encouraging them to focus on the road. Have important conversations concerning distracted driving and the devastating consequences it can have. If you see that cell phone use is distracting your young drivers, download an app that helps remove the temptation. These apps can silence notifications and send an automated message to people trying to contact your loved ones when they are behind the wheel so they can keep their focus on driving.
Drivers: Drivers can help decrease distracted driving rates by promoting safe driving habits for everyone. Sign a pledge to end distracted driving, get involved in local organizations against distracted driving and set an example through your driving habits. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, show young drivers that it is their responsibility to keep fellow travelers safe.
If cell phone use is a form of distracted driving that you struggle with, download an app that helps remove the temptation. These apps can silence notifications and send an automated message to people trying to contact you when you are behind the wheel so you can keep your focus on driving.