What Makes Distracted Driving So Dangerous?

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Posted on: 19 April 2018 by Jim Raychrudhury

Every year, thousands of lives are taken due to distracted driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately nine people in the United States are killed and more than a thousand injured every day due to car accidents involving a distracted driver.
 
It appears many people are still unaware of the dangers, with a recent study conducted in Australia indicating that 1 in 4 drivers multitask while driving, included doing things such as eating, putting on makeup, brushing their teeth, and changing clothes.
 
So what counts as distracted driving and what makes it so dangerous? We take a closer look and offer some advice on how you can drive more safely.
 
Types of Distracted Driving
                                                                                                   
Distracted driving refers to any task that diverts your attention away from driving, from taking a bite out of your sandwich to texting a friend.
 
There are three different types of distracted driving, and these include:
 
Visual distractions: this refers to any task that takes your eyes off the road. Examples include reading text messages, looking at the scenery, putting on makeup, looking at your GPS, and browsing through your playlist.
 
The danger with visual distractions is that when you take your eyes off the road, you are no longer assessing your surroundings, which means you could miss potential hazards up ahead.
 
Manual distractions: this refers to any action that takes your hands off of the wheel, and includes things like drinking and eating, smoking, reaching for an item such as your handbag, or adjusting the temperature controls.
 
Manual distractions are dangerous as they involve you taking at least one hand off the wheel, which both impairs reaction times and can stop you from steering correctly. 
 
Cognitive distractions: this involves any task that takes your mind off of driving and can be a little trickier to quantify as it could include anything from speaking to a passenger to thinking about something stressful or even daydreaming.
 
It also refers to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or driving when drowsy, all of which can impact your ability to focus your attention on driving.
 
Why Is It So Dangerous?
 
No matter what task is causing the distraction, it will always increase the risk of you getting into an accident, as it takes your attention away from driving. When your reaction times are impaired, it is far more challenging to avoid hazards on the road in time.
 
Knowing the different types of distractions drivers face, it’s clear to see why texting is so dangerous, as it involves all three types of distraction. It may not seem like long, but you take your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds to read or send a text, and if you are driving at 55mph, those few seconds would be enough for you to cover the length of a football field.
 
In fact, one study found that a person who is reading while driving is 3.38 times more likely to crash than someone who is driving normally. The same study found that you are 3.7 times more likely to crash if looking at an external object, and 8.82 times more likely if reaching for a moving object.
 
How to Avoid Distractions
 
To avoid getting distracted while on the road, consider the following tips:
 
  • Eliminate the temptation to check your phone or answer calls by putting your phone on silent or turning it off altogether.
  • If for any reason you need to be available to take a call, use a hands-free device and limit the call time. If possible, find a safe place to stop and take the call.
  • Make sure you are fully ready before leaving the house, so you avoid doing things like brushing your teeth or applying your makeup in the car.
  • Plan ahead and eat something before heading out or make a stop along the way if you are taking a longer trip and need to eat during the journey. 
  • Do things such as typing in an address or setting up a playlist while you are still parked, so you are not distracted once you begin driving.
  • Explain the risk of distracted driving to passengers and try to limit interactions, so your attention remains on the road.

Driving is a complex task that requires our full focus and attention. No matter how tempting it may be to check your messages or try to fit in as much as you can into your morning commute, it simply isn’t worth the risk.

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