Distracted driving may involve visual, manual, or cognitive distractions. Anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off of driving is dangerous. While distracted driving is most often associated with cell phones, they’re not the only cause. Here are some of the most common distractions that cause car crashes.
1. Cell Phones
As mentioned above, cell phones are one of the biggest culprits in distracting drivers. Sometimes it’s because drivers can’t resist peeking at the text they just received. Other times, the driver may be consulting their phone for directions or some other information. New cell phone laws in Maryland require that all interactions with your phone must be hands-free.
Believe it or not, daydreaming is another of the biggest causes of car crashes. It’s easy to zone out even during the shortest drive. If you travel the same path every day, for example, there’s a danger of going into autopilot mode and not paying attention to what’s going on around you.
It’s ironic that craning your neck to look at a car crash is such a common cause of crashes. Looking at any other objects or people outside the car instead of keeping your eyes on the road is hazardous. If there’s a sign you need to read or something important to look at, find a safe place to pull over.
4. Stereo, Thermostat, GPS, and Other Devices
Phones aren’t the only devices that distract drivers. Looking away from the road to change the radio station, adjust the temperature, or enter a location in your GPS can also cause a crash. Distracted driving has become an issue for anyone who uses technology in their car as a part of their work, too. Police officers, for example, have laptops and other equipment important for doing their job.
5. Adjusting the Mirrors or Seat Position
Anyone who shares a car knows there are bound to be adjustments once you get in, and you may not remember to do all of them before pulling out of your driveway. There’s nothing wrong with making these adjustments in a running car, but it’s safest to change mirrors and seat positions while stopped. Wait for a stoplight or pull over.
6. Fellow Passengers and Other Moving Objects
Fellow passengers can also be a distraction. Of course it’s unrealistic to suggest you should always be in the car alone, but the more you’re aware of the potential of these distractions, the better. Other passengers, including children and animals, can easily take your attention away from driving. Always keep your littlest passengers in their safety seats and secure your pets. New laws also prohibit objects hanging in your windows that might obstruct your view.
7. Eating, Drinking, or Smoking
All the motions involved in eating, drinking, and smoking can also distract you from the road. Your hands will leave the wheel. You might glance away to put your drink back into the cup holder. Both hands might be needed to retrieve and light a cigarette. Again, it’s best to pull over and take care of these things when you’re not driving.
Avoiding Distracted Driving
While some distractions are inevitable, understanding them can help you minimize them. Cell phone use, for example, can be distracting visually, manually, and cognitively. If you have to look at the phone to pick it up, that’s a visual distraction from the road. If your phone is also in your hand, that hand is not on the wheel. That is a manual distraction. Having a conversation with someone then takes your attention away from your surroundings, also making it a cognitive distraction.
Applying that logic to each of the above distractions is an excellent exercise for new and experienced drivers alike. Please see our distracted driving resources page for more information.