Driving distractions happen whether we want them to or not. Sure, we can keep the cell phone in the glove box and bypass the Starbucks or McDonald’s drive-thru for a quick breakfast before work, but what about the distractions you can’t control? What if a bee flies in your window? What if your kid throws up in the back seat? What if there’s a hot chick (or dude) walking down the street and you just can’t resist?
Types of Driving Distractions You Can Encounter
While you’re behind the wheel, distractions can come from multiple directions. To successfully manage these, you first have to understand what these are and their possible sources.
The act of being distracted can come in four specific types:
- Visual distraction — When you take your eyes off the road and look at something else
- Auditory distraction — when you hear a noise that is not related to driving, redirecting your attention
- Manual distraction — when you take your hands off the steering wheel to handle something else
- Cognitive distraction — when your thoughts are on something else, making you less focused on driving
Any of these distractions put you and your passengers in danger. It also makes you a hazard to other drivers on the road.
But what causes you to become distracted? The reality is, there is no one source for possible distractions. The most common sources, however, are as follows:
- Your vehicle itself — indicator lights, symbols on the control panel, and navigation systems
- What you bring inside the car — food, pets, and electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets, or laptops
- The external environment — signs, displays, or billboards; the surrounding scenery; different roadside features
- Your thoughts — ongoing concerns, daydreams, or being lost in thought
There is one distraction that takes a significant amount of focus away from driving – texting.
The Danger of Texting Behind the Wheel
Although some drivers consider it insignificant, texting takes visual, manual, and cognitive attention away from what’s important: the road. In extension, this also applies to using your mobile phone for other things, such as browsing social media while stuck in traffic.
Based on a survey The Zebra conducted in early 2021, 16.2% of drivers admitted to texting while behind the wheel. Although that’s slightly lower than 2020 finds, it’s still a significant number.
Distracted driving — specifically due to texting and mobile phone usage — contributes significantly to traffic accidents. As an attempt to address this, several states launched awareness campaigns.
In 2020, 29.4% of people indicated awareness of their state’s texting and driving laws. This number increased to 31.6% in 2021.
More than being aware of current regulations about texting and driving, you can do other things to ensure your focus doesn’t stray.
Unintended driving distractions will occur on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean you have to put yourself or others around you in danger. If something distracting happens, there’s only one thing you’ve got to do. Drive. That’s it – just drive! Don’t worry about anything else. This was a lesson I was taught during flight training.
Reacting To Driving Distractions
In most car accidents involving unforeseen distractions, it’s not the distraction that caused the accident. Rather, it’s the way the driver reacted to that distraction. I’m reminded of a time I was driving with my sister and a spider decided to drop down from the ceiling of the car, right in front of my sister’s face while we were going about 50mph on a two-lane country road. Like most grown adults would do in this situation, she freaked out. We began weaving from side to side as she started screaming over and over again “What do I do! What do I do!” Of course, my response was, “just drive!!”
What do you think would hurt more? A little spider dropping on your face or a head-on collision? Don’t get me wrong, I hate spiders too (ok, I don’t hate them, but I don’t really like them in my face!). If a spider dropped in front of my face while I was driving, I’m sure I would also freak out. But the point is, a spider isn’t going to kill you. Hitting a tree or school bus full of nuns and orphans on the other hand… that would be bad (those busloads of orphans are always in the wrong places).
Alright, so the point of that story is, no matter what happens, just drive! Don’t worry about anything else until you can pull your car safely to the side of the road. That means using your turn signal, taking your time, double-checking blind spots, etc. Just drive. As soon as you’re pulled over, you can jump out of the car and wave your hands everywhere!
Driving Distractions We CAN Control
For the distractions we CAN control, let’s use some common sense people! Do we really need laws telling everyone it isn’t OK to text and drive at the same time? I mean, really? How about using some very basic common sense!
I have a friend who is the distracted driving king. He’ll start driving and only after getting a mile down the road will he realize he needs to put directions into his GPS (while driving 50mph). He has to take every single darn phone call that comes in, too. He’s not reckless enough to text and drive, thank goodness, but he makes me really nervous with his controllable driving distractions. It’s all about using common sense and having a shred of self-control or willpower. If you lack self-control, turn off the ringer and lock the phone up in the glove box. Manage your time. If you have to fuss with the radio, can it wait until you’re at a stoplight? If you have your dog in the car with you, use a humane restraint to minimize distractions (I wrote an entire article about that). Please, don’t risk your life, and don’t risk mine. Control those distractions and just drive!
Enough Is Enough!
Too many lives are lost on our nation’s roadways, simply because somebody took their eyes off the road for “just a second.” Don’t be fooled, It can happen to you, either because of your driving or because of somebody else’s driving. As a professional truck driver, I saw all sorts of catastrophic accidents and most of them were completely avoidable. That’s part of the reason I created this website. I’m sick and tired of seeing and hearing about people who are dead because they either didn’t have the willpower or know-how to properly handle driving distractions. Many of the deadly accidents I’ve seen occurred over pretty insignificant things like a dropped beverage, trying to eat and drive at the same time, texting while driving, etc. Just drive! A double quarter-pounder with cheese is not worth risking your life or my life.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Distracted!
When we think of distracted driving, we usually put all of the burdens onto individual drivers. Since individual drivers are the “captains of their own ships” the argument is completely acceptable. However, can’t we as friends and family members also help? For instance, if you know a friend is on the way to your house but you have to leave for a few minutes, do you send a text? If you know your friend is driving, maybe you should leave a note on the door instead? While it ultimately is the driver’s decision on whether or not to answer a text, we can all do our part by not offering the temptation. Help keep your friends safe, don’t text when you know your friends are driving.