Distracted Driving Prevention and Resources

Driving is a privilege that a large portion of society takes advantage of on a daily basis. Without the ability to drive, one’s mobility, freedom, and ability to function is severely hindered. As important as driving is, the combination of speed and the weight of the vehicle itself can kill or maim if control is lost. For that reason, it is important to avoid distractions while behind the wheel of one’s vehicle. Distracted driving can and often does cause a dangerous situation for the driver, their passengers, and anyone around them.

What is it?

When a driver’s attention is diverted from the act of safely operating their vehicle and is directed toward a competing activity, it is known as distracted driving. The types of distraction can be broken down into three categories: visual, cognitive, and manual. A visual distraction is a distraction that takes the driver’s eyes off of the road. A cognitive distraction takes the driver’s focus or mind off of the road. An example of a cognitive distraction is driving while arguing with a passenger in the vehicle or focusing intently on a talk radio show. Manual distractions are the type of distractions that cause a driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel. Eating while driving or reaching for an object in the passenger seat are both examples of manual distractions. In some instances, a distraction may include all three. Text messaging, for example, is cognitive, visual, and manual because the driver must look at the phone, pick it up, and focus on the act of typing and/or reading what is being said.

How can I prevent it?

While all people can succumb to distracted driving, there are steps that can be taken to prevent it from happening. Because cell phones play such a large part in distracted driving, one can eliminate a major distraction by turning off the phone before starting up the car. Placing the phone in a location that is out of sight and out of reach is an additional measure to help prevent the temptation of turning it on while on the road. Planning and mapping out the driving route can eliminate the need to look at navigation systems or maps while driving. Adjustments to mirrors, seats, and climate control should all be made in advance as well. People who tend to complete their grooming needs in the car should do so before they get into their vehicle or before they begin to drive. If children or pets become fussy while on the road, pull over safely before tending to their needs.

What are some statistics?

When it comes to distracted driving, the statistics are shocking, particularly when it comes to texting while driving. Sending text messages is the most dangerous of all distractions. People who send and receive text messages while they are driving are 23 percent more likely to cause an accident than a driver who is intoxicated. Additionally, one’s steering capabilities are decreased by 91 percent. When a person reads or sends a text message, the average length of time that they are visually distracted is 4.6 seconds. Although this sounds like a relatively short amount of time, it is the equivalent of closing one’s eyes while driving 55 mph down the length of a football field. Young drivers are particularly affected by distraction from cell phones and text messages. According to the NHTSA, the number of teens and young adult drivers who have admitted to driving while composing or sending messages is 71 percent. The number who have read messages while driving is 78 percent. NHTSA also notes that 27 percent of the drivers involved in fatal car crashes are drivers who are in their 20s. Statistics on Distraction.gov, which is the U.S. government’s official website for distracted driving, state that in 2012, there were 3,328 deaths in distraction-related crashes and 421,000 injuries.

What are the laws?

Most states have some form of distracted driving law in place. It is critical that drivers learn the laws associated with their state and the laws of any state that they will be traveling in. Laws for adults and inexperienced drivers may also vary somewhat. Hand-held cell phone use while driving is prohibited in 12 states, and in D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Thirty-seven states prohibit newer drivers from using any form of cell phone while driving. Forty-three states in addition to the U.S. Virgin Islands, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam prohibit text messaging for all drivers. Four of the seven remaining states ban novice drivers from text-messaging while they are driving.

How can I help?

While each driver is ultimately responsible for their own driving habits, there are ways that people can help encourage others to adopt a safe and distraction-free driving ethic. Drivers can teach by example, particularly when they have teens and other youths in the car. When kids see their parents talking on cell phones, sending text messages, or behaving in a way that takes their attention off of the road, they are learning these habits and are likely to adopt them when they start driving. Educating oneself on distracted driving and sharing that knowledge with others is another way to help reduce accidents and injuries caused by them. People can even pledge to drive without distraction and/or have their teen drivers sign a pledge to do the same. Another option is to join organizations that fight against distracted driving or make financial donations to them.

By Ted Burgess