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5 things to know about distracted driving

According to statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,140 Americans have died due to distracted drivers in 2019. Around 424,000 people were injured in crashes in the same year. Nine people are killed every day in this country because of accidents apparently involving a distracted driver.

Understanding the ramifications of distracted driving can save lives. Here are five important facts to know.

1. Young adults and teenagers are most at risk

Of all age groups, young adults and teenage drivers tend to be most at risk of distracted driving. When it comes to fatal crashes related to distracted driving in 2019, a higher percentage of drivers aged 15 to 20 were distracted than drivers aged 21 and older. Among young drivers, 9% were distracted when they had an accident.

In a 2019 survey of high school students in the United States, 39% said they had driven in the past 30 days while texting or emailing.

Students who reported texting or emailing while driving were also more likely to report other transportation-related risk behaviors. For example, they were more likely to report not always wearing their seatbelts and they said they were more likely to drive after drinking alcohol.

2. There are three types of distractions

When driving, anything that takes your attention away from the wheel is a distraction. These can be grouped into three distinct categories.

A visual distraction is where you take your eyes off the road. Manual distractions mean you take your hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions are anything that takes your mind off your driving.

If you’re driving at 80 km/h, reading or texting is like driving the length of a football field while closing your eyes.

3. Cell phones are the biggest distraction

The federal government estimates that approximately 7.9% of drivers use hands-free or portable phones at all times of the day.

Surveys show that the rate of drivers texting or using mobile devices during the day has more than doubled since 2011.

People who use their phones more often while driving are often associated with higher-risk drivers in other areas. For instance, in an IIHS studydrivers who spent the most time at the wheel interacting with a cell phone had the highest rates of accidents and near-misses.

In a study conducted on the road, drivers who report using their phones often change lanes more often, drive faster and brake harder than drivers who report using their phones rarely while driving.

Almost all experimental studies performed so far on driving simulators show that driver performance is affected by cognitive distractions related to tasks performed on the phone. In an analysis of 28 experimental studies, typing or reading text significantly slowed reaction time, increased the amount of time drivers looked away from the roadway, and increased lane deviations.

Using a phone can also impact how a driver scans and then processes what’s happening on the road. A driver usually takes his eyes off the road to use a phone. Drivers who are engaged in conversations will tend to focus their eyes towards the center of the roadway, but their attention is still not entirely on the driving, so it is more difficult to process what they are looking at.

Researchers have found brain activity associated with attention and treatment are removed when a driver experiences cognitive distraction. Cognitive distractions can lead to what is called inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness occurs when a driver cannot process or understand roadway information even though they look it straight in the eye.

4. Other causes of distracted driving

While phones and text messages are the main guilty of distracted drivingThere are others too.

Other major distractions include:

  • GPS—we are used to relying on our GPS to get us from place to place. However, setting your GPS route while driving is just as dangerous as texting. If you are going to use a GPS, you should mount it in front of you where you can see it easily. You need to turn up the volume to be able to hear the instructions rather than having to keep staring at the screen.
  • Adjusting the controls, whether it’s music or temperatures, adjusting anything in your car takes your focus away from driving. As small as it may seem, a fraction of a second of inattention can increase the risk of being involved in an accident.
  • Make-up and grooming – if you use your travel time to apply make-up or do any type of grooming, you could put yourself and others on the roads at risk.
  • Talking to people in the car – whether it’s friends, your spouse or your children if you’re in the car with other people, you’ll probably talk to them. This is normal, but you should also remember that the first priority is to focus on your driving.
  • Zoner – if you dream while driving, especially on a long trip or when you are on a familiar route, you may realize that you have driven for miles without even thinking about what was happening, which is dangerous.

5. Distracted driving is preventable

While distracted driving is a major risk in the United States and can be deadly, it’s also something that’s preventable and largely within your control. You can’t control other drivers, but if you pay attention and avoid distractions, you’ll be better able to steer around dangerous drivers or avoid difficult situations.

When you’re driving, you should never use your phone. If you have an emergency, stop. Remember that even a hands-free phone can still cause you to miss the signals you need to avoid an accident, including visual and auditory signals.

If you are tired, get off the road. Limit the number of passengers you have in the car at any given time.

Do not eat or drink while driving, and never multitasking when you’re behind the wheel.


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