Distracted driving is any activity that could take your attention away from the road. It can take several forms, from texting a friend to focusing too much on the scenery around you. It's a real problem for drivers of all skill levels. If you want to be a responsible driver, then you need to understand all the dangers distracted driving poses.
Three Main Types of Distractions
What does distracted driving look like in the real world? Let's take a look at different types of distractions and practical examples you may relate to.
Manual distractions involve you taking your hands off the steering wheel. For example:
Fiddling with the radio
Adjusting the air conditioning
Reaching for your phone
Eating or drinking
Taking off a sweater
If your hands aren't on the wheel, you don't have full control of the vehicle. Then, if you had to swerve quickly to avoid a pothole, for example, you might not be able to do it quickly enough.
Visual distractions take your eyes away from the road. For instance, to:
Read a text your mother sent you
Look at directions on your phone
Enjoy the scenery around you
Look in the rearview mirror for too long
As you can guess, if your eyes aren't on the road you might miss critical information that could lead to a crash. For example, you could miss a sharp bend ahead and get seriously hurt.
Finally, cognitive distractions take your mind off the road. You're not focused on what's ahead of you for a variety of reasons:
You're stressed about schoolwork
You've gotten lost in conversation over the phone
You're singing your favorite song a little too enthusiastically
Being tuned out and not focusing on the road ahead is a recipe for disaster. Your reaction time will be slower, which could mean you don't brake in time not to hit a deer, for example.
How Dangerous Is Distracted Driving, Really?
Dangerous driving is a really serious problem that can be fatal. In 2020, there were 2,880 crashes involving distracted drivers. That's a whopping 8% of all fatal crashes for the year. In total, 3,142 people lost their lives — all because drivers weren't paying attention to the road.
Out of all those accidents, cellphone use was responsible for396 deaths. The rest were other types of distractions. Now you see why avoiding these crashes isn't as simple as just putting your phone down.
Sadly, young drivers aged between 15 and 20 are the most likely to be distracted behind the wheel. They're also the ones most likely to use their cellphone. According to a recent CDC study, 39% of high school students report having texted or emailed while driving in the past month.
Putting an End to Distracted Driving
Is there anything we can do to prevent so many avoidable deaths? The short answer is yes.
Distracted Driving Laws
The vast majority of states have passed distracted driving laws. The goal is to get drivers to be more responsible and present when they're behind the wheel. From banning the use of handheld devices to banning the use of any cellphone device among young drivers, state legislatures are cracking down on the problem.
There are only two states where texting and driving isn't illegal as of 2022: Missouri and Montana.
Several non-profit organizations have also stepped up to make a difference. From organizing social media campaigns to speaking to teens at schools about the perils of texting and driving, these groups fight to change our attitudes toward distracted driving.
Defensive Driving Cuts Back on Distracted Driving
Defensive driving classes are another way to combat distracted driving. These lessons put into perspective just how dangerous distraction-affected driving is. It's clear that texting and driving just isn't worth it. Plus, you'll learn how to handle the unexpected: like what to do if another driver is texting and creeping into your lane.