While driving, anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off driving is dangerous. Distracted driving is most often associated with cellphones but they’re not the only cause. Here are some of the most common driver distractions contributing to vehicle crashes.
Cellphones are one of the biggest causes of distracting driving. Sometimes, it’s because drivers can’t resist peeking at the text they just received. Other times, drivers may be consulting their phone for directions or other information. Cellphone laws in Maryland require that all interactions with your phone must be hands-free when driving.
Believe it or not, daydreaming is another major cause of car crashes. It’s easy to zone out, even during a short drive. If you travel the same route each day, there’s an increased danger of going on mental autopilot and losing awareness of your surroundings.
It’s ironic that craning your neck to look at a car crash is such a common cause of additional crashes. Focusing on objects or people outside of a vehicle instead of keeping your eyes on the road ahead 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 may also cause a crash. The same holds true for drivers who utilize technology in their car as a part of their work. Laptops and other devices should not be kept in the front seat while driving and should never be used while driving.
5. Adjusting the Mirrors or Seat Position
Anyone who shares a vehicle knows there are bound to be adjustments once you get behind the wheel, and you may not remember to do all of them before beginning your drive. 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 a safe place to pull over and make adjustments before continuing your drive.
6. Passengers and Other Moving Objects
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 potential distractions, the better. New drivers should be particularly mindful of the potential distraction caused by passengers. In Maryland, drivers under 18 may not drive with passengers under the age of 18 with the exception of immediate family members. Other passengers, including children and animals, can easily take your attention away from driving. Always keep your littlest passengers secured in an appropriate safety seat and secure your pets. Maryland law also prohibits objects hanging in your windows that might obstruct your view.
7. Eating, Drinking, or Smoking
Many of 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 or be distracted by spilled food. Both hands may be needed to retrieve and light a cigarette. Again, it’s best to take care of these things when you’re not driving.
Avoiding Distracted Driving
While some distractions are unavoidable, awareness can help you minimize them. Cellphone use, for example, can be distracting in multiple ways. Glancing at the phone to pick it up creates visual distraction by removing your eyes from the road. If your phone is in your hand, that hand is not on the wheel, a manual distraction. Having a phone conversation splits your attention, taking your focus from your surroundings, causing 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.