Distracted driving is when a driver takes their attention away from the road, for any reason. These distractions can endanger the safety of the driver, their passengers, and anyone else using the road, including other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.
What Is Distracted Driving?
There are three types of distractions for drivers: manual, visual and cognitive. Manual distractions cause the driver to take their hands off the wheel, visual distractions cause the driver to take their eyes off the road, and cognitive distractions pull the driver’s mental focus away from driving and reduce their situational awareness.
Not only is distracted driving dangerous, but it can also lead to higher rates of insurance. Insurance claims for accidents associated with distracted driving have been on the rise in recent years, so insurers are looking for new ways to prevent it. Some common causes of distracted driving include:
- Talking on the phone
- Putting on makeup or grooming
- Reaching or turning to the backseat to find something
- Talking to passengers
- Using the radio, stereo, climate control, or other in-car system
- Adjusting GPS navigation or looking at GPS screens and directions
- Watching a video
- Being in an emotional state that makes it difficult to concentrate on the road
Many countries have laws that prohibit drivers from using cell phones or texting while driving. However, many people still do it — distracted driving is incredibly common. According to Bankrate.com, at any moment in the U.S., some 600,000 people are using a cell phone while driving. American Automobile Association (AAA) research reveals that 35 percent of teenaged drivers in the U.S. admit to texting while driving, though almost all (94 percent) realize that this is dangerous.
How Dangerous Is It?
Every year in the U.S., distracted driving claims the lives of around 3,000 people and causes an astonishing 280,000 injuries. The problem is not limited to the States, however. In the U.K., in 2016, 1,445 fatal accidents were caused by distracted driving.
It may not seem like a big deal to answer a text or phone call while you’re driving, but think again. According to a AAA study, drivers who use a cell phone are four times more likely to get into a crash than drivers who do not. Meanwhile, texting causes you to take your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
In addition, a Transport Research Laboratory study revealed that that the act of texting and driving diminishes a driver’s reaction time by 35 percent, compared to 12 percent for intoxicated drivers. In other words, distracted driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving. That’s sobering news. If you would never drive drunk, you should have the same attitude toward texting while driving.
Texting and talking on the phone are among the most obvious types of distractions for drivers, but GPS devices and navigation apps may be an even greater problem. A 2017 study by University of Utah researchers found that programming a GPS navigation device is the most distracting activity for drivers. It can take as many as 40 seconds to program a GPS and up to 13 seconds for your eyes to refocus on the road after looking up from the device.
The After-Effects of Distracted Driving
If you are caught texting or chatting on the phone while driving, you may be ticketed by the police — even if you haven’t been involved in an accident. Your insurance rate could increase due to this alone.
If you get into an accident while driving distracted, your insurance rates could increase even more significantly. For example, if you are determined to be at fault in the accident, your auto insurer may raise your premiums by 20 to 30 percent. If you cause multiple accidents due to distracted driving (or any other reason), your rates could go up even more, and you may be considered a high-risk driver.
Many insurers increase rates for up to three years after a driver has been involved in an accident where distraction was a factor. Some insurers will even cancel the policy. Other consequences of getting into an accident while driving distracted include points on your driver’s record, or potentially even jail time if you cause a fatal accident.
How to Avoid Distracted Driving
Use commonsense when driving and remember that operating a vehicle should command your full attention. In addition, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t eat or drink while driving.
- Put your phone on silent and store it out of your field of vision, if possible, so you’re not distracted by the sound or visual notification from a text or call.
- Program your GPS device or navigation app before you get on the road; don’t fiddle with it while you’re driving. In addition, spend a minute or so familiarizing yourself with the directions before you leave, so you’re not only reliant on the GPS.
- If you need to use a navigation aid while driving, turn off your music and turn on the sound, so you can hear the directions clearly and do not have to look at your GPS device or phone.
- If you have to look at your GPS device or phone, purchase a dashboard mount so you can place it at eye level. This will prevent you from having to completely look away from the road.
- If you have a passenger, let them be responsible for looking up directions and guiding you.
If you are ever in doubt about whether a specific activity is considered a distraction while driving, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid it. Remember that your safety and the safety of others depend on your focus when you’re behind the wheel.