Common Driving Distractions and How To Minimize Them

What Types of Distractions Do People Commonly Face While Driving?

Between road signs, other drivers, and potential on-road hazards, driving is an activity that requires undivided attention. Staying focused on the road helps keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe. However, driving can also introduce several potential distractions — both inside and outside your vehicle.The causes and consequences of distracted driving are well-documented. Accidents, injuries, and vehicle damage are the common result of distracted driving. No matter your years of experience, it’s easy to become distracted while driving. 

3 Types of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving comes in three main forms: visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Each presents a serious risk for driver, passenger, and vehicle safety. These same distractions can further endanger spectators — anyone walking, riding their bike, or near the road for any reason.

Depending on the circumstance, a distracted driver can also experience more than one type of distraction at one time. For example, they might daydream — a cognitive distraction — while manually checking their phone.

Manual Distractions

A manual distraction will take one, or both, of a driver’s hands off the wheel. This can compromise their control of the vehicle and reduce reaction times to approaching hazards.

Here are a few manual distractions to avoid:

  • Eating a meal;
  • Changing the radio station;
  • Reaching for something in the vehicle;
  • Adjusting your vehicle’s temperature or other controls;
  • Handling pets or young passengers.

Some manual distractions are understandably important. For example, you might remove a hand from the steering wheel to close your windows or calm an upset child. However, these distractions can also increase your risk for accidents and more serious outcomes. Whether it’s a crying toddler or a pressing email, it’s best to safely pull off to the side of the road before addressing a distraction.

Visual Distractions

Unlike manual distractions, you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel to be visually distracted. Even simply diverting your eyes from the horizon can lead to trouble. Instead of focusing on oncoming road conditions, drivers choose to focus on another item — often something inside their vehicle.

Here are a few visual distractions to avoid:

  • In-car entertainment systems;
  • Text messages, maps, or other mobile phone applications;
  • Roadside billboards;
  • Other passengers during a conversation.

Scenic views can also present a visual distraction. Make sure to pull off to the side of the road before enjoying views of landmarks, landscapes, or vistas.

Cognitive Distractions

Cognitive distractions impair your ability to concentrate or effectively operate a vehicle. They prevent your mind from focusing on the responsibilities associated with driving.

Here are a few cognitive distractions to avoid:

  • Talking on the phone;
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
  • Fighting drowsiness;
  • Engaging in deep conversation with passengers.

Even with a full night’s sleep — and no passengers in the car — you can still experience cognitive distractions. If you’re stressed about work or planning a weekly meal schedule while driving, for example, your preoccupied thoughts can still increase your risk of accident or injury.

The Impact of Distracted Driving

Distracted drivers impact far more than themselves. They can impact safety for everyone on, or near, the road, even for drivers traveling in the opposite direction. When distracted driving causes an accident, the effects can sometimes last a lifetime for affected drivers or bystanders. Medical bills, scarring, permanent injury, and trauma are common, unfortunate byproducts of distracted driving episodes.

Even a brief loss in concentration can have damaging effects. At 55 miles per hour, that’s “like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The same organization estimates that over 3,000 people die each year as a result of distracted driving, leaving a lasting impact on affected families.

You can also face steep legal penalties for distracted driving. Even simple car accidents follow a comprehensive lawsuit timeline. Accidents can lead to claims and lawsuits, trials, and loss of driving rights that can follow. Distracted drivers can also face traffic citations, fines, criminal charges, license suspensions, and steep increases in monthly insurance premiums.

How To Minimize Distractions While Driving

To avoid consequences, you need to minimize distractions before, and during, road travel. Finish any snacks, set your mirrors, and wrap up phone conversations before you leave. Place loose items in your glove box or other storage compartments. This prevents anything from rolling around and getting under your pedals while you drive. These steps keep you focused on the road in front of you once the drive begins. It also sets a positive example for younger drivers, particularly those pursuing a permit or license.

Despite pre-trip preparation, you can still experience distractions during the driving process. For example, inclement weather or other distracted drivers on the road can represent unexpected challenges. This is when defensive driving habits become important. Use good driving habits like mindfulness and self-discipline to keep your hands on the wheel — and your eyes on the road — even when distractions occur.

Ways To Prevent Cell Phone Use While Driving

When surveyed, more than 90% of people believe that it’s dangerous to read from a phone while driving. Unfortunately, 26% of those same people have used their phone while driving in the last month. From a logical perspective, many drivers understand that texting while driving is dangerous. Still, this logic has yet to connect to many drivers’ actions. Few people will actually put their phones away before getting behind the wheel.

The best way to prevent cell phone use on the road is to remove the distraction altogether. Turn your phone off, or activate your phone’s do-not-disturb setting before you turn the car on. You can also set up auto-reply features, alerting anyone contacting you that you are currently driving.

Cell phone use can also contribute toward liability in the event of an accident. It can indicate a distracted nature that makes you culpable for damages to yourself, your vehicle, and other drivers.

How to Combat Drowsy Driving

The National Sleep Foundation attributes as many as 6,400 deaths each year to drowsy driving. Fatigued driving can affect your reaction times, hazard awareness, and attention span in ways that seriously threaten your safety. No matter how common it is, drowsy driving is a dangerous form of distracted driving.

Here are a few ways you can combat drowsy driving:

  • Maintain a healthy sleep schedule;
  • Take regular breaks during long trips;
  • Share driving responsibilities with other passengers;
  • Avoid driving during late night and early morning hours;
  • Recognize fatigue signs like yawning, heavy eyelids, and microsleep.

No matter how important your travels are, it’s important to pull over to the side of the road if you feel drowsy. You can also consider alternative forms of transportation if you feel too tired to drive. Use public transit, order a rideshare pick-up, or find a designated driver to avoid the consequences of drowsy driving.

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