Types of Distracted Driving

Posted On June 13 2024 | Car Accidents

Driving while distracted. DWD. It should be a crime. In many cases, it is.

Distracted driving is arguably more dangerous than driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, if only because everyone has the potential to become distracted behind the wheel at any moment. Staying safe depends on our recall of defensive driving tactics and implementing them appropriately.

Understanding the types of distracted driving that can occur can help keep you and me safe on the roadway if only to serve as a reminder of what not to do and to keep at the forefront of our minds the importance of safety for ourselves, our families, and others.

Manual Distractions

Manual distractions involve taking your hands off the wheel. This can happen when you reach for something in the car, like a drink, your phone, or adjusting the radio. It also includes more obvious actions like eating or grooming while driving. Even a momentary lapse where your hands are not on the wheel can lead to disastrous consequences.

Common Manual Distractions

  • Texting or dialing a phone number. Using a phone requires manual input, diverting your hands from the wheel and increasing the risk of an accident.
  • Eating or drinking. Handling food or beverages can be surprisingly distracting, leading to spills and a lack of control over the vehicle.
  • Adjusting controls. Whether it’s the radio, air conditioning, or navigation system, fiddling with car controls can take your hands off the wheel and your attention off the road.

Visual Distractions

Visual distractions occur when your eyes are diverted from the road. Even looking away for a few seconds can cause you to miss critical changes in traffic conditions, such as a car braking suddenly or a pedestrian stepping into the street.

Examples of Visual Distractions

  • Looking at a GPS device. While GPS devices help with navigation, constantly checking them instead of listening to voice prompts can be distracting.
  • Reading a text or email. Even a quick glance at your phone to read a message means you are not watching the road.
  • Observing events outside the vehicle. Accidents, billboards, or interesting scenes can catch your eye, pulling your focus from driving.

Cognitive Distractions

Cognitive distractions involve your mind drifting away from the task of driving. This type of distraction is particularly insidious because you might not even realize your attention has waned until it’s too late.

Cognitive Distractions to Watch For

  • Daydreaming. Getting lost in thought is a common distraction that can happen without warning.
  • Conversing with passengers. While chatting with friends or family can seem harmless, it can divert your mental focus from the road.
  • Stress or emotional distress. Personal problems or stressful situations can preoccupy your mind, making it difficult to concentrate on driving.

Texting: The Triple Threat

Texting while driving is particularly dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions: manual, visual, and cognitive. When you text, your hands are off the wheel, your eyes are off the road, and your mind is on the conversation. This trifecta of distractions significantly increases the likelihood of a crash.

The Consequences of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is not just dangerous; it is deadly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 alone. The risks associated with distracted driving are well-documented, yet many drivers still engage in these behaviors daily.

Legal Ramifications

  • Fines and penalties. Many states have laws against texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving, resulting in fines and points on your license.
  • Increased insurance rates. A distracted driving ticket can lead to higher insurance premiums.
  • Civil liability. If you cause an accident while distracted, you could be held liable for damages and injuries.

How to Stay Focused on the Road

Staying focused while driving is crucial for your safety and the safety of others. Here are some tips to minimize distractions:

  • Set up your GPS before driving. Make sure your route is planned and your device is set before you start driving.
  • Use hands-free devices. If you need to take a call, use hands-free technology to keep your hands on the wheel.
  • Keep your phone out of reach. Place your phone in a location where you cannot easily grab it while driving.
  • Pull over if needed. If you must address something urgent, find a safe place to pull over before dealing with it.