You have probably seen the scary PSAs about the dangers of texting while driving. Hopefully you know to put your phone out of sight and out of reach while you are behind the wheel. But cell phones aren’t the only distractions for drivers. You may still be practicing other unsafe driving behaviors that are putting you and others at risk.
What Is Distracted Driving?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system.”
Put more succinctly, distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from driving.
The Three Main Types of Distrcted Driving
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that distracted driving is anything that:
Takes your eyes off the road
Takes your hands off the wheel
Takes your mind off of driving
It is well known by now that texting while driving is very dangerous, but you may not have considered how dangerous other common driving distractions can be.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most problematic distracted driving behaviors.
1. Eating & Drinking
It’s not uncommon to pull out of the drive-thru and start to eat your meal behind the wheel. But have you ever thought about how distracting it can be to have a sandwich in one hand and a steering wheel in the other? Eating requires you to do two things at once, making it harder for you to focus on the 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 especially distracting. Next time you are feeling hungry on your commute, try to wait until you get to your destination to dig in.
Smoking, like eating, is distracting because it requires you to take your hand off the wheel. 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 distraction. Smoking is not a healthy choice anyway. Combining it with driving is an even worse idea.
3. Talking to Passengers
Have you ever been driving and chatting away with someone in the passenger seat and realized you missed your turn? A car full of passengers (especially young, rowdy passengers) can cause a driver to lose focus on the task at hand: driving safely. It’s not always an option to drive solo, so when you have passengers in the car, let them know you need to focus on driving so you can keep everyone safe.
4. Visual Distractions
Did you see that person walking down the street you just passed? How about that three-car collision on the freeway with all the police cars and ambulances? What a funny billboard! Sometimes it’s hard not to let your attention drift to unusual or eye-catching sights when you’re driving. When you feel yourself getting distracted, remind yourself to keep your eyes on the road and your head in the game. Even an innocent glance at a pretty sunset could be a dangerous distraction. Stay focused.
5. Programming GPS, Radio, & Other Gadgets
Just because it’s not a phone, doesn’t mean technology is okay to use while driving. It’s tempting to search for that song on your playlist or plug in an address in your navigation system while you cruise down the highway. Even if these things are part of your car’s entertainment system, they can still be distracting and dangerous to use while driving. Wait until you are stopped to do anything that keeps your eyes off the road even for a few seconds.
6. Listening to Loud Music
According to one study, drivers listen to music 90% of the time. Listening to music can influence your driving behavior, in both negative and positive ways. Calming music may actually improve one’s ability to drive safely. Studies have shown that listening to aggressive music, such as heavy metal, is correlated with aggressive driving behaviors, such as speeding and cutting people off. 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 sirens. Keep the volume down and the music calm.
7. Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving slows your reaction time and makes you less able to pay attention when you’re drivingl. If you don’t get enough sleep or take medication that makes you drowsy, you are putting yourself at risk when you get behind the wheel.
Drowsy Driving Facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Drowsy driving was involved in 91,000 crashes in 2017—resulting in 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths.
In 2020, there were 633 deaths based on police reports (however these numbers are underestimated).
Over 6,000 fatal crashes each year may involve a drowsy driver.
8. Applying Makeup or Grooming
Trying to put on makeup while driving is not a good idea because of how much attention to detail it requires. It’s tempting to try to multitask while driving, but when you do this, your attention is divided. Driving requires all of your attention. Put down the tweezers or hair brush and focus on the road in front of you.
9. Having a Baby or Child in the Car
Any parent knows that a cranky infant, toddler, or small child in the car can be very distracting. 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. It’s useful to have things like toys and snacks at the ready to keep your child happy and your focus where it belongs. If your child is really needing your attention, it’s a good idea to find a safe place to stop so you can check on them and settle them down.
10. Having a Pet in the Car
Most people don’t consider how distracting having an animal in the car can be, especially if the pet is unrestrained. Keep your pets in a carrier whenever possible. Save the snuggles for when you aren’t driving.
Always Limit Distractions
That wraps up our list of 10 things that are just as distracting as texting while driving. Next time you buckle up and put your car in drive, make sure to limit the distractions for a safe and calm ride. Remember to always keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your mind focused on driving.
Stay Focused on Safety with Defensive Driving
Want to learn more strategies for being a safe driver? Our defensive driving course can teach you why it’s critical to avoid distractions like texting while driving and drowsy driving, and how to avoid getting into an accident. The road can be a scary place if you don’t actively work to prevent and avoid collisions. Take steps to be a safer driver with defensive driving.