10 Distractions to Avoid When Behind the Wheel of a Car

In 2015, there were nearly 3,477 people killed and 391,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Distracted driving can come in several different forms. Manually distracted driving is when you remove your hands from the wheel. Visually distracted driving is when you take your eyes off the road. Cognitive distracted driving is when your mind is on other things besides driving. The Virginia State General Assembly passed Joint Resolution 336 in 2001, calling for a study into the hazards that distracted driving imposes and, particularly, the influence of telecommunication devices on the operator of a motor vehicle. The study concluded with recommendations for education, awareness, training, legislation, enforcement and further research into the subject that the state has been in the process of reviewing and implementing. Since then, the state has imposed bans on certain types of distracted driving, like texting while driving. Other research, conducted at Virginia Tech, found that over 50 percent of the time an average person spends driving, he or she is driving while distracted. In conclusion to the study, the researchers posed that 11 million crashes per year could be avoided in the United States, if distracted driving was eradicated. Here are some of the key forms of driving distractions that you can avoid to save lives, including yours.

1. Adjusting a Music Device

In 2003, Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a study commissioned by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Among its findings, it revealed that adjusting a music or audio, such as tuning a radio, changing a CD, finding a song on an MP3 player or adjusting the volume, was among the top five distractions involved in motor vehicle crashes in the state.

2. Eating and Drinking

Consuming food and beverages while driving is a form of manual distraction that keeps your hands off the wheel for long periods of time, while also periodically requiring you to look away from the road. Eating and drinking while driving causes visual and mental distraction that takes away from the concentration needed to drive safely.

3. Emotional Driving

Driving while emotional is a serious distraction that can have deadly consequences. Most people have experienced driving while noticeably mad, sad or otherwise upset. Oftentimes this emotional unrest comes as a result of incidents that occur while driving, as in road rage. According to recent research, road rage can increase the chances of an accident significantly.

4. Fatigue

Driving while exhausted is a serious form of distracted driving. In the VCU study, driver fatigue was among those rare forms of driving distraction found to be even more prevalent than using cell phones. In fact, it was the second most prevalent form of distraction involved in crashes in Virginia, accounting for 12 percent.

5. In-Vehicle Information Systems

The increase in, In-vehicle information systems (IVIS) is leading to more distractions for drivers. Using IVIS is comparable to using a cell phone while driving. Typical tasks performed on the system, such as making changes to a GPS, take longer than the recommended 15 seconds to complete, making its use dangerous while driving.

6. Reading

Reading while driving is a particularly perilous form as it involves all three forms of distraction: visual, manual and cognitive.

7. Rubbernecking

Rubbernecking is the act of looking out the window at something going on outside, rather than paying attention to the road and driving safely. Typically, rubbernecking occurs when an accident on the side of the road occurs and those not involved in the accident slow down to view the scene.

8. Speaking With Passengers

Passenger distraction, such as tending to a child, accounted for nine percent of traffic crashes in Virginia in the year studied. It is recommended to pull over if you need to attend to a small child in the car.

9. Texting While Driving

The NHTSA cites texting as the form of distracted driving that is the most alarming. The average time it takes to read or send a text message is five seconds. That is five seconds that your eyes are off the road, and at 65 miles per hour, that is the equivalent of driving a distance more than the length of a football field while keeping your eyes shut. Virginia is among the 35 states plus the District of Columbia with a law in place that bans text messaging while driving.

10. Using a Phone

During the daytime, about 660,000 people are using their cell phones and driving at the same time. The greatest perpetrators of this form of distracted driving are young drivers, more specifically, people 16 to 24 years of age. In 2009, a cell phone or smartphone was a reported source of distraction in 24,000 of the instances of people injured in auto accidents involving distracted driving, or about 5 percent. Hands-free devices are not much safer because the act of talking and listening in a conversation can produce cognitive distraction that may cause a driver not to notice an audio or visual cue that would otherwise keep them from getting into an accident.