Once upon a time, the automobile was a sacred space for focused and unbroken attention to the road…a bond between man and machine working in synchronous harmony to arrive at new destinations previously unknown by the limits of crude animal-powered transportation.
Today, technology has made our modern horseless carriages faster, stronger, and far more distracting. In suburbia, parents cram their kids and the neighborhood carpool into their 9-seaters for the tortuous 15-minute drive to school. The hip, young, and social use their trendy cars for hanging out with friends and joyriding with ear-splitting heavy metal music blasting. The modern executive has turned his luxury sedan into a mobile office, complete with voice-activated autodialing cell phone and enough gadgets to keep him wired into the office.
One way or another, our cars have shaped our ways of life and, to an extent, our identities. We consider them extensions of our homes, offices, and even ourselves. Unfortunately, many of the comforts of home we attempt to bring into the car can be considerably dangerous and distracting. It is well known by now that texting while driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, but how often do people stop to consider how dangerous the other common driving distractions that we all participate in can be? Under the wrong circumstances, all of the following behaviors can be deadly factors while driving.
1. Eating & Drinking
As you pull out of the drive-thru and start to eat your meal behind the wheel, you might want to consider how distracting it can be to have a sandwich in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Eating requires you to sacrifice part of your manual control over the car, and also much of your ability to pay attention to the road. On a bumpy road, it requires a fair amount of focus just to get the food into your mouth instead of on your shirt. Foods like soups and salads that require utensils or spill easily are the worst choices, for obvious reasons.
Smoking, like eating, is distracting because it requires the sacrifice of at least one of your hands. But when you also consider the smoke billowing in your face, and the possibility of burning embers falling on your lap or scorching your fingertips, you’ve really created a major detriment to safe driving. The last thing you need when you are zooming down the highway is a still-burning cigarette butt hitting your thigh and causing you to lose control of the car.
3. Talking to Passengers
While most teenage drivers will beg to differ, a moving car is not a proper hangout spot. A backseat full of loud and rowdy hooligans is one of the greatest threats to safe driving. But in fairness to the young and outgoing, even a simple conversation between 2 mature adults can be disastrous if the one driving puts more attention into their words and their partner’s responses than they do to the events happening all around their car. Save the heavy discourse for home.
Did you see that cute girl walking down the street you just passed? How about that gnarly 3-car collision on the freeway with all the squad cars and ambulances? What a funny billboard! Oh look, road kill! Yes, even urban driving can be an exciting journey full of interesting sights, but don’t let your instincts and curiosity get the best of you. If you’re behind the wheel, you’ve got a job to do. Let the passengers enjoy the sights while you stay focused on keeping everyone alive.
5. Programming GPS, Radio, & Other Gadgets
In an extreme, almost comical, example of how distracting entertainment and navigation devices can be, consider the 2009 story of the 2 airline pilots who missed their destination by 150 miles because they were distracted for over an hour by a laptop in the cockpit. On the road, all it takes is a moment of inattention or delayed reaction for any of a thousand potential things to go wrong. Choose the moment wisely before you reach for that dial.
6. Listening to Loud Music
We’ve already talked in previous blog posts about how listening to music can influence your driving behavior, and in more ways than you probably think. Any loud noises are obviously a problem for safe driving, because they are distracting and can drown out other important sounds on the road like voices, car horns, crashes, or (heaven forbid) police sirens. But even the style of music you listen to can make your driving less precise and more unsafe.
7. Being Angry, Tired, or Emotionally Erratic
Your control of the vehicle can only be as good as your control over your own body and mind. Driving a car, especially a large one, is really quite an amazing feat when you think about it. If you wouldn’t try to operate a forklift or ride an elephant when you weren’t feeling completely in control of yourself, what makes you think a maneuvering a 5,000-pound steel box at 65 MPH will be any safer? The DMV estimates that “drowsy driving” causes at least 100,000 crashes a year in the U.S. If you have to question whether you might be too tired or emotionally upset to drive safely, you probably are.
8. Applying Makeup or Grooming
Trying to put on makeup while driving can be even more disastrous because of how much attention to detail it requires. Good luck plucking those eyebrows or putting your lipstick on without taking your eyes off the road.
9. Having a Baby or Child in the Car
Any parent knows there is no denying that a cranky infant, toddler, or small child in the car can be one of the most distracting things to deal with on the road. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can be done to calm a disgruntled baby in transit, so it is important to prepare yourself mentally ahead of time to deal with the distractions that will likely arise on the way to where you are going. These will be different for every parent and child, but it is often useful to have things like toys and food at the ready when getting started on a trip to keep a temper tantrum at bay.
10. Having a Pet in the Car
Most people don’t consider how distracting having an excitable animal in the car can be, especially if the pet is unrestrained. But a yappy or frightened dog can mean the difference between staying in control of the vehicle or losing your head (literally and figuratively). Keep your pets in a carrier whenever possible, and definitely don’t let them near you while you are trying to drive.