You get in the car and you immediately put on your seatbelt. You’ve seen the signs: click it or ticket.
You always check over your shoulder before changing lanes and without a doubt you keep a safe distance between you and the driver in front of you. By all accounts, you consider yourself a safe and good driver.
But are you always 100 percent focused on driving and driving only?
It might seem like no big deal when you reach over to pet your dog or check your phone at every stoplight. And it can’t be that bad when you quickly glance down at your phone when you see it light up, right?
All of this falls under distracted driving. More often than not, distracted driving leads to accidents. In 2018, 2,841 people died in distraction-affected crashes.
So why can’t people put down their phones or stop themselves from changing the music? Let’s take a look at the consequences of distracted driving.
What’s distracted driving?
You might think distracted driving is the same thing as driving while on your phone. But it actually encompasses more than that.
Distracted driving refers to any activity that draws your attention away from driving. These activities can fall under three categories:
This is when you take your eyes off the road to glance down at your phone, look at your kids in the back seat, or look at a car accident.
In this case, this would be if your hands leave the steering wheel to reach for an item, change to the next song on your playlist, or pet your dog.
This is when you take your mind off driving to think about something that happened at work today or the errands you need to run.
What are the consequences of distracted driving?
With many states across the U.S. implementing distracted driving laws, the number of fatal crashes involving distracted driving has fallen.
In 2018, 2,841 people died in distraction-affected crashes. This is a 12 percent decrease from 3,242 deaths in 2017. And it’s the third consecutive year that this number has fallen.
Unfortunately, while fatal crashes involving cell phone use has fallen, nonfatal crashes are on the rise.
What’s responsible for the rise in distracted driving?
There’s increased awareness around distracted driving and the bans against handheld electronics has been helpful. But new technology in vehicles is still causing drivers to become distracted behind the wheel.
There’s a tendency for drivers to believe that using their high-tech dashboard and other hands-free tech in their vehicles is the safer choice compared to using their cellphone. But in fact, it all contributes to distracted driving.
Who’s most affected by distracted driving?
Teen drivers also have the highest rate of crashes of any age group in the U.S.
In 2017 alone, 2,364 teens aged 16-19 were killed, and around 300,000 were severely injured in a car accident. Teens are most affected by distracted driving. With less driving experience, teen drivers are less equipped to react during a potential crash especially if they’re driving distracted.
Instilling good driving habits in teen drivers is key: not using a cellphone while driving (and at stoplights), not applying makeup, fiddling with the radio, or eating behind the wheel is a great place to start. And if possible, limiting the number of passengers while they’re driving can be helpful.
How do I avoid driving distracted?
It’s easy to get distracted on the road while you’re behind the wheel. Especially if you have a long road trip ahead of you.
But here are some tips to help you lower the number of times you’re driving distracted:
Limit the number of passengers
Driving with friends piled in the car can be tricky. You want to engage in the conversations around you, but that keeps you focused on your friends and not the road.
If you find yourself easily distracted by company, limit the number of passengers in your car. Or request that the amount of social interaction in the car be limited while you’re driving.
Avoid eating in the car
Late for work and hoping to eat your breakfast in the car? Try to eat when you get to work instead.
Eating makes you less attentive to drivers around you. And if you spill food? It’s a major cause for distraction as you panic trying to clean it up.
Be hypervigilant around familiar areas
Most fatal car accidents happen within 25 miles from your home.
It’s easy to get distracted when you’re so close to home. Your route in your neighborhood is familiar and repetitive so you rely more on muscle memory instead of active driving skills. Your mind tends to wander and you’re soon thinking of other things other than driving.
So remember to still be alert behind the wheel even if you’re so close you can see your home.
Feeling drowsy? Pull over
Instead of pushing through it to get home, safely get off the road and rest for a little bit.
Limit your cell phone use to emergency situations
While you’re driving, your cell phone should only be used in emergency situations. Even then, you should safely pull over to make a call.
Even using hands-free technology to make a call can be dangerous as you can miss important visual or audio cues around you.
Want to multitask? Leave it outside the car
If you’re spending a lot of your time on the road, it can seem like a good idea to get everything done while you’re driving.
Texting friends back, fiddling with Google Maps, changing the music, and reaching over to get a snack can all be done before or after your drive.
And if there’s a holiday, be extra cautious to not be distracted by apps and texting. Studies have shown that texting and app usage by drivers is over 30 percent higher around the holidays.
I’m only glancing down for a few seconds. What can happen?
Let’s say it takes you five seconds to read a text from a friend. That’s five seconds your eyes are off the road and your mind isn’t thinking about driving.
If you’re driving at 55 miles per hour, in five seconds you’ve driven the length of a football field without looking at the road. A lot can happen when you think you’re only taking a few seconds to glance down at your phone or reach to grab something.
Maintaining good driving habits such as not driving distracted is not only beneficial to your safety, but also to your insurance costs.
You’re minimizing the risk of you getting into a car accident, fatal or not. You will keep your driving record clean and you won’t be filing as many claims. You won’t see your car insurance premiums spike.