Nowadays the first thing that comes to mind when talking about distracted driving is texting and cell phone use, but the fact is it isn’t just texting or using a cell phone. Any activity that diverts a driver’s attention puts that driver, passengers and everyone else sharing the road at serious risk.
A partial list of what counts as a distraction besides texting and cell phone use are: eating and drinking, smoking, attending to or disciplining child passengers, grooming, reading, including maps, using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player or adjusting temperature controls.
Traffic safety experts classify distractions into three main types: Manual, visual and cognitive.
- Manual distractions are those where you move your hands away from the task of controlling the vehicle. Reaching for a soda in the drink carrier is an example of a manual distraction.
- Visual distractions are those where you focus your eyes away from the road. You drop your soda, and when it spills all over the floor of the car, you look down at your ruined shoes and stained slacks: that’s a visual distraction.
- A cognitive distraction is when you’re mind wanders away from the task of driving. You start to consider whether you can afford to replace the clothes you just ruined, and what stores have sales this week, and you’re no longer paying attention to the essential job of driving — cognitive distraction.
This is why texting has such a bad reputation: it always involves all three types of distraction, all at once.
Researchers found that talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of an accident, about the same as if you were driving drunk. That risk doubles again, to eight times normal, if you are texting.
Sending or receiving a text message distracts a driver for about five seconds; at highway speeds that represents a distance of about 300 feet in which the car is essentially out of human control, driving itself.
According to the NHTSA, over 3,331 people were killed and over 387,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents connected to drivers who are distracted. That represents 10 percent of all fatal crashes and 17 percent of all accidents that caused injuries.
Young drivers are at the greatest risk for distracted driving incidents. Some researchers speculate that this is because inexperienced drivers are the most likely to overestimate their ability to multitask.