In 2017, distracted driving claimed more than 3,100 lives. Most people recognize the dangers of distracted driving: increased accident risk, increased distraction, and struggle to keep up with the events on the road. Unfortunately, 46 percent of teens actively admit to texting and driving, as do 49 percent of adults. These surveys also fail to consider people who will not admit to texting and driving.
Not only that, distracted driving does not end with texting or cell phone use, though modern smartphones certainly provide more than enough opportunity for distraction. Any type of distraction behind the wheel can increase crash risk: just talking or listening to someone can increase crash risk by 1.3 times, while reaching for a device or other item can increase accident risk by 1.4 times. Unfortunately, many people assume that distracted driving only includes using a cell phone or other device while behind the wheel. As a result, drivers often engage in other distracting behaviors while driving without realizing the significance or danger of those actions.
Eating and Driving
Most people have, at some point, eaten while driving. Maybe it’s a quick breakfast bar on the way to work or school, a French fry out of a fast food bag on the way home, or a protein shake after their workout at the gym. On the other hand, perhaps the driver chooses something more complicated: an entire meal consumed behind the wheel. People on road trips, soccer moms who find themselves constantly on the go, and workers who need to grab a fast meal may all decide that they want to eat behind the wheel rather than taking the time to go into the restaurant. Most people see no harm in it.
While grabbing a French fry at a stop sign may not significantly increase your accident risk, eating while driving takes your attention away from the road. Every time you glance down at your food instead of looking out the windshield, you run the risk of missing something happening around you. Worse, as you eat, you must take at least one hand off the wheel to deal with your food, which can reduce your ability to respond during an accident. Messy foods present the biggest problem: tacos, sandwiches overflowing with fillings, messy desserts that get all over your hands, and ice cream, for example, can significantly increase your risk of an accident even on a perfectly clear day. Simply eating and driving may increase accident risk by 3.6 times.
Carrying on a Conversation
If you have a passenger in your vehicle, you will probably decide to talk to them during your journey. Children, in particular, often choose the car as the best place for fascinating, distracting conversations that take your attention from the road. Many teens struggle to keep their attention on the road when they have too many passengers in the car, which most states use as a reason to restrict teenagers to a single passenger until they have more driving experience.
A passenger in the car, however, gets the same view of the road you do. They can easily and naturally pause the conversation as needed as you navigate difficult traffic patterns or deal with potential hazards. People on the phone, on the other hand, have no idea what the road around you looks like. Even if they know that you must concentrate on the road while carrying on the conversation, they may mistakenly continue talking even while you deal with something happening on the road. As a result, you may pay more attention to the conversation than to driving, which can increase accident risk.
Using a GPS
Many people now have a GPS on their phones. Others use the GPS built into the car or a separate GPS device. These devices make it much easier to find unfamiliar locations or to navigate in unfamiliar cities. Unfortunately, they also cause substantial distractions that could pose a danger for drivers on the road. Many drivers lose track of the road and pay more attention to the GPS than to other drivers. They may focus on the screen as they hurriedly look for the next turn or check speeds and hazards ahead.
Unfortunately, this significantly increases accident risk, which has already increased due to driving in an unfamiliar area. Instead, GPS users should program the device ahead of time and use auditory signals to direct them.
Cell Phone and Smart Device Use
Ultimately, cell phone use poses one of the biggest hazards while driving. Texting and driving often take the driver’s eyes off of the road for several seconds at a time, during which time the car may travel the length of a football field or more down the road. While texting remains the biggest hazard, dialing, checking social media, and app use can all significantly increase accident risk and leave a driver struggling to control their vehicle. Unfortunately, nearly half of American adults surveyed admit to texting and driving—and those are just the ones who admit it.
Smart devices also pose their own set of problems. Many smart devices connect to your cell phone and show notifications, including text messages and app notifications. They may also show notifications from the device itself: fitness watches, for example, buzz to let the wearer know that they need to get up and moving or that they just met their step goal for the day. Those distractions can prove incredibly potent to drivers who respond to those notifications. Reading messages and notifications on a smartwatch screen may actually cause greater distraction than reading a text message on a phone screen: the device screen, smaller than a cell phone, must scroll through the message, rather than displaying it all at once. Smart devices may also require the driver to remove one or both hands from the wheel in order to check the device.
Putting on Makeup and Other Challenges
In addition to the normal challenges of distracted driving, many people choose to engage in extremely distracting activities behind the wheel. Women may choose to put on makeup. Drivers may fiddle with paperwork, smoke, or try to change the stations on the radio. All of these activities, unfortunately, take driver attention away from the road, significantly increasing accident risk as a result. Any time a driver tries to do something else while behind the wheel, they take their attention away from other drivers, road hazards, signs, and other information that can help them reach their destination more successfully.
What Happens When a Driver Gets Distracted?
When drivers get distracted, their eyes and their attention leave the road. Their hands may leave the wheel—sometimes just one hand, and sometimes both of them. They may also:
- Drift out of their lane. It takes only fractions of a second for a car to slip into another lane, which leaves both the driver of the car that moved off course and the drivers around them at a higher risk of an accident.
- Travel too slow or too fast.
- Swerve unpredictably.
- Miss their turn and overcompensate in an effort to get back.
- Fail to notice important things going on around them, including the actions of other drivers, construction workers, pedestrians, and other potential hazards.
Avoiding Distracted Driving Behavior
As a driver, you have a responsibility to everyone on the road with you to avoid distracted driving behavior. While you cannot always prevent the distracted behavior of other drivers, you can keep yourself and your passengers safer by following some of these tips to reduce distracted driving.
- Place your cell phone in the back seat. Even better, place it in the trunk. Keep in mind that no message has enough importance to be worth your life or the lives of other drivers on the road with you—but responding to a text message may lead to an accident that ends in death, disability, or serious injury for both you and others in the car with you. If you cannot exercise self-control on your own or you have just committed to reducing cell phone use while driving, try turning your phone off or removing the potential for distraction while you drive.
- Turn off notifications on smartwatches and other devices. While you must drive, make sure that your attention remains on driving, not on checking your watch. Many models will allow you to quickly turn off notifications, which will keep you safer while you drive. Like your phone, your smartwatch and any corresponding notifications will wait until you arrive safely at your destination.
- Pay attention to the road, not eating and drinking. Taking a quick sip out of a straw might not pose much distraction, but turning up a thick milkshake or smoothie and obscuring your vision while you try to get to the bottom of the drink can. Likewise, you might not feel distracted by eating a protein bar or grabbing a sip of your morning coffee, but eating a breakfast sandwich, as toppings slide everywhere and pieces fall off your biscuit, can pose a substantial distraction for even the most disciplined driver. Try to avoid eating and drinking behind the wheel. Most of the time, you can spare a few minutes to pull over or eat when you reach your destination. If you struggle to find enough time to eat and often find yourself powering through a fast food meal behind the wheel, consider how you can rearrange your schedule to leave more time in your day.
- Set your GPS before you get started. If you must make modifications to your route or check information provided by the GPS, pull off the road or have a passenger take care of those tasks for you. Looking down at your GPS takes your attention off of the road and poses a significant danger, while taking care of those tasks ahead of time will increase your odds of successfully reaching your destination.
- Take a minute after you start the car. Set the radio to your preferred station and adjust the temperature controls. Make sure the seat remains in your preferred position and that you have prepared your vehicle to drive before you put the car in drive. By preparing yourself ahead of time, you can reduce your distractions while you drive and increase the odds that you will safely reach your destination. If you do need to adjust temperature controls or change the radio station during your drive, pull off the road or make fast adjustments at red lights or stop signs.
- Avoid distractions behind the wheel. Driving and putting on makeup, checking paperwork, or fishing for a toy that your child dropped in the back seat can significantly increase accident risk. What you consider multitasking could end in a deadly accident. Instead of trying to complete those tasks while driving, wait until you reach your destination or complete them ahead of time. Attempting to multitask takes too much attention from your drive.
- Teach the kids that when you drive, you must focus on the road. Kids can pose a potent distraction no matter where they are. When you drive, however, the kids should know not to distract you from the road. Teach your kids to avoid asking you to complete tasks that can wait, from opening a juice box or snack packet to reaching down between the seats for a dropped toy. In some cases, you may take care of those tasks while the vehicle is not in motion. In other cases, your child may need to wait until you reach your destination. Don’t worry: they will survive the wait.
Did You Suffer Injuries in a Distracted Driving Accident?
You can control your own driving behaviors, but you cannot always predict the behavior of drivers around you. Some of them may engage in texting and driving, eating behind the wheel, or taking care of other tasks when they should drive. If you suffered injuries in a distracted driving accident, you may need legal assistance to navigate the complex justice system. Contact Boohoff Law online today or call at (877) 999-9999 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about the compensation you may recover for injuries in a distracted driving accident.
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