What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the
primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:
Talking on the phone
Talking to passengers
Looking up directions on a GPS device
Looking at a map
Adjusting the radio, AC, etc.
In other words, basically anything other than driving is considered a distraction.
3 Main Types of Distractions
What distracts you most while driving? Even the safest drivers get distracted now and then. There are countless distractions around every corner, some of which are very common. Understanding what distracts you most can help you focus better on the road.
Driving distractions fall into one of three categories:
Manual: Anything that involves taking your hands off the wheel.
Visual: Actions that take your eyes off the road.
Cognitive: Activities that take your mind off driving.
Some activities fall into more than one distracted driving category. Take texting for example. That is a manual, visual and cognitive distraction.
Below are some stats on how different distractions impact driving:
Texting takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 MPH, that’s like driving an entire football field blindfolded.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey revealed only 20% of drivers between the ages of 18-20 stated that texting doesn’t affect their driving.
The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that cell phones were being used during 25% of car crashes in the U.S.
Drivers are 4 times more likely to be involved in an accident while using a hands-free device.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety studied the behavior of 16-19-year-old drivers and found interacting with passengers was one of the top distractions. It accounted for 15% of all crashes studied between 2007-2015.
A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. Twenty percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
The 2019 Distracted Driving and Social Media Report from DriversEd.com found 55% of U.S. drivers check social media while driving.
These are just a few of the eye-opening distracted driving statistics. For more on distracted driving among teens, you can read the AAA’s Teen Driver Safety study.
How Dangerous is Distracted Driving?
A 2009 study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on the subject of distracted driving found that text messaging increased the risk of a safety-critical event, such as a crash or near-crash, by 23.2 times compared to a driver who wasn’t distracted. This compelling statistic caught the attention of the public at large, legislatures and even phone companies and since 2009, 48 states and the District of Columbia have banned all texting while driving.
The NSC estimates that 9 people a day are killed in distracted driving accidents and 1,000 others are injured.
In 2013, a new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study reinforced the dangers of distracted driving—and it didn’t just include texting. The study also examined engaging in visual-manual cell phone subtasks such as reaching for a phone and dialing. It turns outreaching, dialing and texting greatly increases a driver’s risks.
Distracted driving is so risky it’s worse than drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.
Doing Away With Distracted Driving
The dangers of distracted driving are serious - deadly serious. A variety of efforts are being made to end distracted driving because it’s a problem that affects everyone on the road.
Distracted Driving Laws
The vast majority of states have enacted distracted driving laws. Most of the laws are designed to prevent texting while driving, but some states ban using a cell phone altogether. Even hands-free phone use is off-limits since it’s a cognitive distraction. Often the distracted driving laws are more strict for teen drivers that are new to driving and more likely to participate in distracting activities.
Organizations Working to End Distracted Driving
A number of organizations are working to end distracted driving as well. They support legislation that eliminates distractions like texting, helps educate the public and hold events to benefit those who have been impacted by a distracted driver.
Defensive Driving Courses
Distracted driving is dangerous for all of those around you. A defensive driving course can help you avoid distractions, keep your driving skills sharp to avoid distracted driving and may be necessary after a distracted driving ticket.
*This article was updated on 3/27/2020