With April being distracted driving awareness month, you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t get distracted while driving…do I?” You might be surprised to find out you do – and you might even engage in multiple types of distraction. Over the next month, we will dive into each of the different types of distracted driving and how to avoid them.
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Distracted Driving” is probably the danger of texting and driving. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. It is true that cell phone use is one of the leading causes for car accidents in the United States, but the reality is that texting is not the only cause of distracted driving.
There are three categories of distracted driving: Manual, Visual, and Cognitive
Manual distractions occur when the driver takes their hands off the wheel while tending to a physical task. These types of distractions range from eating and drinking, digging into a purse, smoking, turning knobs on the radio and maybe even fast forwarding through your favorite podcast. A lot of these types of distractions are routine when every driver gets behind the wheel and it is common that we unconsciously partake in these dangerous habits.
Visual distractions are what people mainly think of when being distracted behind the wheel. Being visually distracted while driving means that the driver’s eyes have wandered off the road and leaving the driver visually impaired. The main culprit of this in the minds of most Americans is the classic texting and driving scenario, which is a visual distraction that can lead to cognitive and manual distractions, making it one of the most dangerous activities to partake in while driving. Visual distractions also include watching the navigation screen, looking at billboards, grooming, and looking at a passenger in the car which results in taking your eyes off the road ahead. The CDC claims that the average text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour. Our eyes may wander off the road ahead but what is more difficult to realize if that our minds can become preoccupied while driving as well and cause cognitive distractions from everyday life.
Cognitive distractions are what cause the driver to drift their focus off driving all together. The reality is that cognitive distractions happen all the time while driving – we have all caught ourselves replaying the day’s events on our commute home. According to the National Safety Council (NCS), drivers can miss more than half of what they are seeing through the windshield when talking on handsfree calls and are engaged in cognitive distractions while in conversation via phone and talking with passengers. Cognitive distractions leave the driver blind to their surroundings, slow down reaction times and affect the areas of the brain that are usually active while driving. Examples of cognitive distractions include, listening to the radio, talking in conversation, being stressed, or fatigued, and being lost in thought.
Many of us engage in multiple forms of distractions every time we get behind the wheel. Everyone is responsible for the safety of themselves and those around them when choosing to get in the driver’s seat. Next time you have an errand to run, are on your daily commute, or are on a road trip, make sure stay mindful of your surroundings so you can arrive safely at your destination.