Don't think you drive distracted?

Posted in Auto

A driver steers a vehicle with their left hand while texting with their right.

Distracted driving happens all around us while we’re on the road. You may be surprised to learn some of your own driving habits technically make you a distracted driver, too. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls distracted driving “anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.” Unfortunately, more than 3,500 people died in 2021 due to distracted driving accidents.  

Before you start to worry, we have some helpful examples of distracted driving to remind you where you can improve your safe driving habits. It all comes down to this: if we can break our distracted driving habits, we can help save the lives of everyone who shares the road including pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers and other drivers.

Examples of distracted driving

Safe driving requires visual, manual and cognitive attention to work together. Taking your attention away from even one of these areas means you’re driving distracted.

Visual types of distracted driving

Visual distracted driving means taking your eyes off the road. To properly see, anticipate and react to obstacles while driving, you must watch the road.

Examples of visual distractions:

  • Taking your eyes off the road to adjust your radio, climate controls or navigation system.
  • Reading something on your cell phone, a book or a computer.
  • Looking in your rearview mirror to talk to a passenger.
  • Watching an accident scene as you drive by—this is also called “rubbernecking.”

You can reduce visual distractions by:

  • Asking a front seat passenger to adjust your radio or climate controls.
  • Setting the location in your navigation system prior to driving. If you need to adjust it mid-drive, safely pull off the road or park to update the system from your stationary vehicle.
  • Placing devices outside of your reach while driving so you can’t pick them up.
  • Focusing your eyes on the road instead of passengers inside your vehicle.
  • Practicing extra caution while driving by an accident scene and watching for people, cars and road debris in the path ahead of you.
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Manual types of distracted driving

Manual distracted driving means taking your hands off the steering wheel. Keeping two hands on the steering wheel is the best way to stay on the road and avoid accidents. One hand, two knees or anything else you might use to steer your vehicle isn’t going to give you the control or turning radius to stay safe.

Examples of manual distractions:

  • Taking a hand off the steering wheel to adjust your radio, climate controls or navigation system.
  • Texting or talking on a cell phone or operating a device while driving.
  • Eating, drinking, smoking or putting on makeup.
  • Searching for an item in your purse or to-go bag.

You can reduce manual distractions by:

  • Asking a passenger to adjust your radio, climate controls or help you navigate.
  • Making hands-free phone calls and committing to never text while driving.
  • Putting devices outside of your reach or turning them off.
  • Applying makeup, eating or smoking only in a parked and stationary vehicle.
  • Keeping both hands on the steering wheel when the car is in motion.

Cognitive types of distracted driving

Cognitive distracted driving means not focusing on driving. Stress is no stranger to most drivers. But when thoughts, feelings or tiredness get in the way of paying attention to what’s happening on the roadway, it’s time to pull over and take a break. Then you can come back onto the road ready to focus and drive safely.

Examples of cognitive distractions:

  • Tiredness
  • Daydreaming
  • Crying or emotional distress
  • Listening and singing with the radio or other music

You can reduce cognitive distractions by:

  • Pulling over to rest if you become tired while driving.
  • Actively thinking about driving.
  • Pulling off to a safe location until you’re ready to drive again.
  • Driving alone without passengers or asking them to quietly occupy themselves.
  • Turning off the radio or music and enjoying the sounds of the world around you.

Tips for driving safely

The simple truth is that distracted driving is a dangerous safety risk. Help keep everyone on the roadways safe by following these simple tips:

  • Put your phone away. It’s the absolute best thing you can do while behind the wheel so that you can safely control your vehicle and respond to events on the road.
  • Use safe-driving apps. While apps are not generally safe while driving, apps like Textecution, tXtBlocker, and DriveMode can prevent you from texting while driving and keep you safer on the road.
  • Think ahead. Take care of distractions before or after your trip so you can devote your full attention to driving.
  • Ask passengers for help. If another activity requires immediate action, enlist the help of your passengers or safely pull off the road and stop your vehicle before handling the situation.
  • Use hands-free for emergencies. If you need to be accessible at all times, invest in a hands-free device or use Bluetooth® technology. However, please note that hands-free does not mean risk-free, so only use it in emergencies.
  • Speak up. Be a good passenger by reminding friends and other drivers to follow these rules. Parents especially should talk with their young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Make a family pledge where everyone commits to safe driving. Plus, check to see what kinds of distracted driving laws are in effect in your city or state.

National Safety Council (NSC) 
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

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