According to Distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes in 2012. That may not sound like a lot, but when it comes to preventable fatalities, it’s far too many. And that’s not to mention the 421,000 people who were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
There are 3 kinds of distracted driving
Though there are oodles of ways to be distracted, they all break down into 3 basic kinds of distraction: manual, visual, and cognitive. Manual distraction happens when you take your hands off the wheel. Visual distraction happens when you take your eyes off the road. And cognitive distraction occurs when you take your mind off of driving altogether.
Use of your phone typically involves all 3 types of distraction (you reach for your phone, you look at the screen, you consider how to respond to a text or message), making it perhaps the most dangerous thing you can do behind the wheel. But, just because it’s the most dangerous doesn’t mean it’s the only dangerous thing you can do while driving.
Here are 7 other driving distractions that could potentially be deadly.
Manual driving distractions
(those that take your hands off the wheel)
1. Driving with pets
A survey from AAA and Kurgo Pet Products revealed that 84 percent of respondents drove with their pets, but only 16 percent said they used any form of restraint system. What’s more, 52 percent admitted to petting, 13 percent to feeding, and 4 percent to playing with their dogs while driving.
Since we know that answering a text takes about 5 seconds, which is how long it takes to travel the length of a football field, consider the time it takes to try to give Fido a doggie bone or peel Fluffy off the dashboard. Then think about how far your vehicle travels in that time. Learn how to safely travel with pets.
2. Driving with kids
As any parent knows, having children in the car can be quite distracting. In fact, AAA reports that kids are 4 times (and infants 8 times!) more distracting than adults as passengers.
And, according to an ABC News report from earlier this year, an Australian researcher found that “the average parent takes their eyes off the road for a staggering 3 minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.” (That’s the length of about 40 football fields, if you’re keeping track.) Whether you’re reaching into the backseat to break up a spat or trying to find baby’s binky, having kiddos in the car adds up to a whole lot of distraction. Check out 6 tips for traveling safely with kids.
3. Eating while driving
Per National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines, a crash is considered to be related to distracted driving if investigators determine that a driver had been using a technological device or engaged in inattentive or careless activities such as reading, talking, putting on makeup, and yes, eating.
A recent study published by Public Health Reports blames distracted drivers for an increase in pedestrian deaths between 2005 and 2010. According to the study, the number of pedestrians killed by distracted drivers rose by more than 45 percent (and the number of bicyclists by 30 percent) during the 5-year span. Learn the top 5 dangers of eating and driving.
Visual driving distractions
(those that take your eyes off the road)
4. Using GPS while driving
Earlier this year, a California appellate court ruled that using the GPS or mapping functionality on a phone while driving is on par with texting while driving. California is currently the only state to make this illegal, but it seems feasible that other states may eventually follow suit since using GPS involves many of the same distractions as attempting to answer a text while driving. Get tips for using your GPS safely in the other 49 states.
5. Putting on makeup while driving
According to a study released by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), 80 percent of vehicle crashes involve some type of driver distraction. And among the main distractions listed? You guessed it: putting on makeup.
We’d like to provide some tips for safely applying makeup while driving, but there aren’t any. Even if you only take your eyes off the road for a few seconds while fixing your lipstick, that’s long enough to travel several hundred feet and lose focus on what’s happening around your vehicle. It’s dangerous and if you’re in California, it could earn you a ticket.
Cognitive driving distractions
(those that take your mind off of driving)
6. Having to pee while driving
As discussed in a previous post, Rhode Island Hospital released a study in 2011 concluding that having to go to the bathroom (badly) resulted in a “cognitive deterioration” equivalent to a 0.05 blood-alcohol content.
Basically, when you really have to go, your judgment is impaired and your focus is no longer solely on the road. Read more about how having to pee makes you drive like a drunk.
7. Hands-free talking while driving
More and more scientists agree that it’s difficult for the brain to do 2 things at once (at least well). According to a story on NPR, the much-cherished idea of being able to simultaneously juggle numerous tasks is really just a bunch of hype.
The same is true when it comes to driving, and many studies are now finding that hands-free devices are often no safer than hand-held — whether you’re holding a phone or not, your brain is still elsewhere. Anything that takes your mind off the road qualifies as cognitive distraction and, depending on circumstances, could be dangerous. More on distracted driving.
How to avoid distracted driving
So what are you supposed to do? Drive without passengers, the radio, or any kids? While that might be ideal for truly undistracted driving, it’s not likely or possible for most of us. We carpool. We listen to the news. We drive our kids to tae kwon do. And that’s ok.
The key is to minimize distractions as much as possible — and to avoid doing things that have been proven to be dangerous, like texting, answering emails, and putting on makeup. Keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your mind on the task of driving.
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