No matter what vehicle you drive, it all comes down to the same scenario: What you’re essentially doing is operating a large steel box full of complicated machinery at high speeds, and thinking that you’re the best at driving.
The problem with this scenario, unfortunately, is that everyone likes to think they’re great at multitasking, and as a result end up doing a lot of things they should while operating said speeding hunk of steel. Or carbon fiber…or whatever your car is made up of; either way, if you’re trying to multitask while driving, you’re doing it wrong.
The fact of the matter is, distracted driving is one of many reasons why we have so many accidents each year, and I’m sure we can all be on the same page about those numbers needing to go down.
The best thing you can do for your safety and the safety of those around you is to practice defensive driving, rather than distracted driving, to ensure the road is as safe as it can be for all.
Now, maybe you’re one of the many distracted drivers out there, and I’m sure these things have at this point become habit, and you’re not sure where to start.
Possibly the best think I can do for you first is to point out the types of things that are considered distracted driving.
After all, the first step to breaking a bad habit is to know and admit you have one in the first place, and there’s more to driving distracted than you may think.
Distractions while driving are numerous, but typically they are of three different types: Visual, Manual, and Cognitive.
Visual distractions are those things that you can see that distract from the task at hand – in this case, driving. If you’re being distracted visually, it means that you’re not looking where you’re going, and are instead giving your attention to that pedestrian on the sidewalk, or that other driver that is just going way to slow, or riding your bumper behind you.
Or, if you’re a family person, your children can be a visual distraction as well, especially if they picked today to be loud and rambunctious right when you strapped them in.
Manual distractions are anything that cause your hands to at any point leave the steering wheel. For example, your kids are being loud and rambunctious and you reach back to smack one of them.
Or, say you were running late for work and are trying to fix your hair or your makeup while you’re driving, or you’re getting breakfast in before you arrive.
All of these things mean your hands are no longer on the wheel, and your vehicle is now maneuvering on its own – and no, your knee doesn’t count as a proper hand replacement.
Finally, cognitive distractions are those that aren’t so physical. These are distractions of your mind and can be caused by the monotony of your everyday work commute, something that’s upset you prior to coming out, anger at other drivers or pedestrians – anything that takes your mind off of the task at hand.
Sure, to some of us, we’ve been driving so long that the action is second nature. However, if you’re not focused on the task, you’re also not likely to be focused on everything else going on around you, and that’s a recipe for disaster on the road.
Think of it this way: On the average US highway, you’re going 55 or more miles per hour. If the average time a person’s eyes are of the road when they’re distracted is 5 seconds, you’ve covered the distance of an entire football field in that time.
It may not seem like much; in fact, I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking “Wow, five seconds, yeah, that’s sooo long.”
Well, at those speeds, a lot can happen in that time; you could hit someone’s bumper because you didn’t see them in time to slow down; you could hit someone getting out of their broken down vehicle on the side of the road; you could miss seeing someone trying to cut you off in passing, and have them hit you.
So many things can happen, and if you’re busy staring out the window instead of looking where you’re going, then you’re likely to end up hurt.
Here’s a video that helps illustrate the point…
As mentioned above, these are distractions which require you to remove your hands from the steering wheel at any given time while operating a moving vehicle – and this includes while you’re stopped at a red light. If you’re one who actively and consistently has trouble getting everything you need to have done before work done before you leave the house, then time management, as well as a defensive driving course, may benefit you.
We all understand that you want to look your best, but we’d also like to continue living our lives; say it with me: I Will Not Fix My Makeup And Hair While Driving. Good!
Now, this encompasses eating while driving, adjusting the radio, texting, reprimanding the kids (it’s honestly more terrifying for them if you make them wait until you get home anyway, it can wait.), and reaching into your bag or purse for something you probably shouldn’t be messing with while driving.
So keep both hands on the wheel at all times, folks!
If you, like me, have an active imagination and a tendency to day dream, then this one’s for us. A cognitive distraction can be letting your mind wander to other things, checking a text or your e-mail, talking to passengers, and letting your emotions rule you, and all of them take your mind off of the task at hand.
This not only serves as a distraction, but also greatly decreases your reaction time, so letting your mind wander instead of paying attention to the road and what you’re doing is always a dangerous call to make. I understand the commute to work can be tedious and boring, but for the sake of yourself and all of us: Focus!
How to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions While Driving
Understandably, there are differences in how we manage to stay focused while driving.
So instead of making a list of tips on how to avoid distractions, here are some situational pieces of advice for you to consider.
Before You Start Driving
Most distractions stem from unfinished businesses you failed to attend to before hitting the road.
For example, if you wake up a bit late and try to rush your preparations before leaving for work, you might end up applying make-up while driving.
Or, if you have a deadline that you need to submit but you have to pick up your kid at school first before you can resume work.
These are day-to-day scenarios that are unavoidable. So how can you stay focused if you have other things on your mind? The answer is managing your schedule properly and making sure to follow through.
You wouldn’t have to rush in the morning if you wake up on time. You wouldn’t have to think about work if you met your deadline before picking up your kid.
Avoiding Manual and Visual Distractions While Driving
This is the part you most commonly read under tips on how to avoid distracted driving – making sure not to eat while driving, turning your phone off or putting it on silent mode, pulling over if you have to take a call.
I mean, these are all commonsensical pieces of advice that you unconsciously ignore because of overconfidence. You’ve been driving your whole life, so who cares if I eat and drive?
Tips that are not taken seriously don’t mean anything. So what you’ll need here is a sense of responsibility. Think about your passengers, think about the people sharing the road with you, think about your safety.
It’s not like you can’t eat when you’re not driving. You can always pull over to answer an important call. Why take the risk and put your life in danger?
How About Distractions Out of Your Control?
Granted, some distractions are unavoidable. You can’t control your reaction to external factors, I get it.
When you happen to pass by a scene where accidents took place, we tend to slow down and check what happened. This may cause more accidents that we’re unaware of. Our instinct tells us we have to know what’s going on. How do you counter that?
An astonishing scenery can also make our eyes, and minds, wander. We may not be even aware we’re already drifting off someplace else as we hit on the accelerator.
Staring at headlights during traffic hours is something I’m always guilty of. I don’t even know I’m doing it until traffic moves.
I mean, there’s a lot of uncontrollable scenarios, and it won’t make sense if I tell you to be responsible here. Again, it’s out of your control.
What I did is to rely on my reflexes – practice defensive driving and your muscle memory will remember.
This isn’t logical advice of course, because it’s still best to prevent accidents from happening by staying focused on the road.
But at least, if you’re driving well within a safe following distance, the impact won’t be that high in case you end up getting in an accident.
Another thing that can help is using external “devices” that can help you focus, like having a peppermint diffuser in your car, or chewing a gum or mint candy when you drive.