What constitutes distracted driving? To many people, the phrase conjures up images of drivers texting behind the wheel, or perhaps trying to dial their phone to make a call. Beyond that, though, most assume that as long as your eyes are on the road and your hands on the wheel, you’re doing what you need to do – but the reality isn’t that simple.
To protect yourself and others when behind the wheel, it’s important to address all elements of distracted driving, which goes far beyond your physical stance. By paying attention to these three different modes of distraction, you can prevent car accidents and model appropriate behavior when on the road.
One of the three core types of distraction that contribute to car accidents is visual distraction, those actions that draw our eyes away from the road, and many things we do behind the wheel contribute to this kind of distraction. For example, if a child is clamoring for something in the backseat, a parent might briefly turn around to fetch a dropped item, or you might glance away to change the radio station.
It might seem harmless – how much could really change about road conditions in those few seconds? In reality, though, visual distraction can be deadly. In the United States, 9 people die each day because of the actions of distracted drivers.
The second major type of distraction implicated in distracted driving is manual distraction, and it often goes hand-in-hand with visual distraction. When you text and drive, for example, you’re not only looking at a screen (visual distraction), but taking your hands away from the wheel (manual distraction). A particularly reckless behavior, teens are particularly prone to texting and driving; 3,000 teens die every year while doing so, compared to 2,700 drunk driving deaths. Luckily, texting and driving laws do seem to have been somewhat effective at curbing this dangerous behavior.
In addition to texting and driving, other common forms of manual distraction behind the wheel include eating, applying makeup, making phone calls, and fiddling with GPS. During the past several years, many applications – specifically GPS programs – have implemented tools to keep people from using the programs while the vehicle is in motion. Often, it’s just an extra step like confirming that you’re the passenger, not the driver, but it’s a little bit of reinforcement that still helps.
Finally, the third type of distraction that can make our roads more dangerous is cognitive distraction. To drivers, this may be the least noticeable because it doesn’t necessarily involve physical behavior. For example, most people don’t think that replaying that fight they had in their head while driving is a form of distracted driving, but really it’s a type of cognitive distraction – it takes your mental attention away from the road.
Using hands-free devices, such as a voice-controlled, mounted cell phone, is also a type of cognitive distraction. Rather than focusing on road conditions, you’re focused on operating your device (often glitchy in voice control modes) and conveying your message. It may seem like a minor allocation of your overall attention, but that’s all it takes to make you a more dangerous driver.
Driving – whether you’re on quiet local roads or a major highway – demands all of your attention, and any time your attention goes elsewhere, you’re putting yourself and everyone around you in danger. Remember, you can’t control what anyone else does on the road, but you can control your own actions, emphasizing attentive, defensive driving so that you’re ready for anything.