Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving is defined as an activity, aside from driving, that potentially distracts you from the main function of driving and that may raise the risk of crashing or having an accident.  There are three types of distractions that result in distracted driving, they are:

  • Visual: This basically means, not looking at the road.
  • Manual: Whenever you take your hands off the steering wheel.
  • Cognitive: The worst thing a driver could possibly do, that is, to take your attention off driving.

All of the types of distractions mentioned above are the ones that would get any driver into an accident, but the cognitive distraction is a very dangerous one as the response time in case of an accident is too slow. Still, the most dangerous form of distraction is the mixing of the three types of distractions already mentioned, and this is why texting while driving is considered the most dangerous activity to do when driving.

There are many activities that result in distracted driving, some of them are:

  • Changing CD’s
  • Changing radio stations
  • Drinking
  • Eating
  • Staring at billboards
  • Stress
  • Talking
  • Using cell phones
  • Paying attention to children

Visual distractions come from very simple activities, such as looking at the passenger next to you or turning around to check on children, maybe watching a billboard in the street or looking at the people in the car next to yours.

Manual distractions come from playing your stereo, eating, etc.

There are many factors that can distract you from basic driving, no matter how smart and conscious people think they are, you can never tell the consequences of reckless, distracted driving. Drinking is one of the worst things to do when you know you will drive, and it is estimated that a person dies every half-an-hour in a car accident because the driver was drinking. Drinking will not only diminish your attention ability, make you take your hands off the steering wheel, your eyes off the road, and your head off your car, it will also decrease your response to danger highly.

With the growth of technology over the past decade or so, the conversation about distractions for drivers has seemingly started and ended with cell phones recently. Even though cell phones do play a large role, there are a number of other distractions that have come into play for drivers for years. Distracted driving is any kind of activity that takes your attention away from the road. Distractions put everyone in danger – you, your passengers and other drivers. The most common distractions behind the wheel include:


Texting and Driving

Texting and Driving has recently been a major focus for law enforcement, and rightfully so. Texting ranks high on the list of the most dangerous activities to do while driving, and it’s not hard to understand why. Texting requires vision and attention – two things that should be targeted toward the road ahead.

Cell Phone and Smart Phones

Most of the attention relating to distracted driving in recent years has involved the use of cell phones and with good reason. Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days and thus a risk for drivers is created. Phones today have so many different features such as e-mail, text messaging, internet browsing, game playing and music listening to that can all end up becoming major distractions for drivers.

Modern-day cell phones are amazing devices, packing the power of a computer into your pocket; however, this is also what makes them dangerous while driving. Smartphones are another recent focal point for law enforcement. Drivers playing with their cell phones aren’t focusing on the road, because they’re focusing on their phone. Anything that takes a driver’s vision off the road is dangerous.

Leading Causes

Outside of the influence of cell phones, there are quite a few things that can lead to distracted driving. A recent study done by Virginia Commonwealth University revealed some surprising figures relating to roadside distractions. Things such as driver fatigue, looking into scenery and rubbernecking are seen as some of the biggest causes of distracted related traffic incidents today.

In VCU’s research, cell phones were rated as the sixth-highest behavior relating to distracted driving. Rubbernecking, or looking at roadside accidents was the highest among behaviors. Looking at these accidents is one of the most frustrating things for drivers these days as they can not only spur other accidents but also slow down traffic and heighten the risk for other drivers on the road.

While the research in Virginia reveals a different take on distracted driving causes, some of its findings are certainly applicable to roads throughout the country.

Other Causes

A true list of distractions for drivers could likely go on forever. Aside from cell phones, rubbernecking and looking at the scenery, there are still plenty of major driving characteristics that can heighten the risk for those behind the wheel, other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Eating or drinking in the car remains one of the most talked-about subjects outside of cell phones. Many people are on the go, grabbing food in their cars and trying to balance a meal while holding on to the wheel at the same time. This practice can be especially dangerous, as taking eyes off the road for any amount of extended time can be devastating. The time taken to organize food and looking where to grab before eating something is comparable to the amount of time one would look down to text message somebody, about three to five seconds at a time.

As mentioned, there are long lists of distractions that can be dangerous for drivers. Some of the other major types include adjusting vehicle controls, adjusting the radio, daydreaming, looking at a map and even focusing on an insect on the inside or outside of the automobile.

Distracted Driving Comparisons

Evidence is conflicting regarding the effect of cell phone usage when compared to other tasks. For instance, studies of subjects using driving simulators showed that phone conversations are far more disruptive than speaking to passengers or manipulating the radio dial. However, a conflation of statistical analyses shows that these tasks are an equal detriment to driving performance as cell phone usage.

Studies comparing cell phone usage to alcohol consumption showed that a phone conversation is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal threshold for driving while impaired. However, the level of impairment with alcohol typically extends throughout the duration of the drive, whereas cell phone usage is typically limited to a portion of the trip. In addition, although the effects are similar at the legal threshold, higher levels of blood alcohol content increase the risk substantially.

Eating While Driving

This is something most people have done behind the wheel at least once. Many times people just don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy a meal, so they take a hamburger to go. While it may seem harmless, eating behind the wheel distracts you just like another other activity does. It takes your focus off the wheel and onto the food in front of them.

Talking to Passengers

Some experts believe that talking to people inside your car is just as bad as talking to people outside your car with a cell phone. While that may or may not be true, having a conversation while driving can impact your driving ability and attention. The goal is to always keep your eyes on the road and your attention there as well. Emotionally charged conversations can be especially dangerous.

Grooming and Driving

Applying makeup, hair brushing and other forms of personal grooming has become commonplace behind the wheel. It should be obvious that this is not an acceptable behavior while driving. This is another example of people not having the time to sit down and groom themselves, but that is no excuse for putting other people in danger. Either find time or go to work unkempt.

Reading While Driving

Whether books, maps, or something on that addictive smartphone, reading is one of the worst things to do while driving. Reading requires vision and attention, something that should not be shared with driving. No driver should ever be reading behind the wheel.

Using a GPS

It might be better than using a map, but sometimes those GPS devices are more hindrance than a help. While directions are given aloud, changing your destination usually requires you to hassle with the device, taking your attention away from the wheel. Program your GPS before you get behind the wheel, or find one that is entirely hands-free.

Adjusting the Radio/iPod

Changing songs, skipping forward, and charging stations all require your attention, and there are plenty of ways to bypass needing to change music. Set a music playlist before you start driving or pick a station in advance.

Watching a Video

Watching a video requires you to be watching it instead of the road. Even if you just want to listen to it don’t, it’s a distraction either way.

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