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Understanding Distracted Driving
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Understanding Distracted Driving

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to distracted driving.  Here you will find the best ways to deal with them so you can eliminate distractions and focus on driving safely.

Why You Shouldn't Use Your Phone While Driving

What constitutes distracted driving while using a phone? Any interaction with a phone can be dangerous.

According to National Occupant Protection Use Surveys (NOPUS), around 660,000 drivers are operating electronic devices (including phones) at any given daylight moment.7  This is disturbing, given that drivers using cell phones have slower reaction times, exhibit delayed braking times, and have a harder time staying within their lanes than those who are not distracted.8  In fact, drivers using cell phones had even slower reaction times than drivers with a .08 blood alcohol concentration, which is the legal intoxication limit.2  

Furthermore, estimates indicate that drivers using cell phones fail to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment, like red lights, pedestrians, “yield” signs, speed limits, and construction signs.  This is known as “inattention blindness,” and it can do real damage to a driver’s ability to safely navigate the road.2 An additional 2013 study from the NHTSA says that visual-manual subtasks performed on handheld phones degrade driver performance and increase the risk of a safety-critical event.8 These subtasks can be as simple as dialing a number, but also include navigating a contacts list, texting, or looking up a map on a smartphone.

In short, using a phone while operating a vehicle limits your ability to react to your surroundings, and to judge the safety of your actions and your environment.

Texting While Driving: A Real Danger

Text messaging while driving is deceptively engaging, and as such puts the driver at great risk.  Texting requires your visual, physical, and cognitive attention, making it much more difficult to navigate safely in a vehicle.  This is why drivers who type or read text messages contribute to a minimum of 100,000 motor vehicle crashes each year.9 

Teens and Texting While Driving

The problem of texting and driving is particularly prevalent in younger demographics.  Distressing statistics from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) state that ¼ of teenagers respond to a text at least once every time they drive, and 20% of teenagers have had multi-text conversations while driving.1 A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study also indicates that 1 out of 5 young drivers think that texting has no effect on their driving performance.10

Adults and Texting While Driving

This problem, however, is not limited to a younger demographic.  Adults are actually just as likely as teens to have texted while driving.  47% of all texting adults say they have sent or read a text message while driving,11 while 10% of parents have had multi-text conversations while driving.1

The Risks of Cell Phones and Distracted Driving

Talking on the Phone While Driving: More Dangerous Than You Might Think

It’s easy to think that talking on the phone while on the road isn’t a big deal, but the truth is just the opposite.  Holding a conversation with someone can turn into a real distraction and take your attention away from the road.  This is because conversation and driving are both thinking tasks, so they are incredibly difficult to do simultaneously. Your brain is only dedicated to one at a time, making it much harder to concentrate.  Though you may think it’s easy to talk and drive, you are actually giving neither activity your full attention, and are therefore posing a greater danger to others on the road as you talk and drive.

Conversations with Passengers vs. Talking on the Phone: What’s the Difference?

One of the biggest distractions drivers face while on the road can actually be a friend or family member in the car.  However, talking on a phone and talking to someone in the car are not the same things. Talking to people in the car is less challenging because both participants are aware of the road and traffic. Even so, the act of simultaneously conversing and driving is unsafe for all parties.

Hands-Free Does Not Mean Risk-Free

Think you’re being safer by using a Bluetooth headset, speakerphone, or earbuds with a microphone to talk on the phone while you drive?  According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), headset use isn’t substantially safer than using a handheld phone. 4 This is because the acts of carrying on the conversation and handling the phone are what make a phone conversation in the car so unsafe.  The cognitive distraction is just as detrimental as the physical one.  Even so, many drivers mistakenly believe talking on a hands-free cell phone is safer than handheld according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.12

Distracted Driving: Not Just Cell Phones

Distracted driving is not just limited to cell phone use.  Any task which takes a driver’s attention away from the road is considered a distracting behavior.  In the 4.6 seconds it takes to type and send a short text message, you could travel 120 yards going 55 miles per hour. 4 These 4.6 seconds during which you are distracted from the road could be just as dangerous as reading a map, fixing your hair, talking with a friend, changing the song playing on your iPod, finding a new station on the radio, opening a can of soda, or programming your GPS.  Taking your eyes and your attention from the road puts everyone in danger.

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