Far from the minor annoyance of a quick Facebook check causing a driver to miss that their light has turned green, distracted driving is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem in the US that CDC estimates is killing up to 9 people per day – thousands over the course of a year, and injuring even more. In a society that thrives on connectivity, it’s hard not to reach for the phone even when it’s a bad time to do so; read on to learn what distracted driving is, and what you can do to keep yourself and those around you safe.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving usually refers to the use of a cell phone to text or make a call while driving, but can also include changing music, eating, drinking, putting on makeup, or talking to a passenger. The three main types of distracted driving are visual (eyes off the road), manual (hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mental focus off of the road and your surroundings). Any of these can put the driver, passenger(s) and others at risk, resulting in accidents causing thousands of deaths per year and hundreds of thousands of injuries.
A 2015 study showed that young drivers (under 20) have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, but even experienced drivers aren’t immune to the temptation of answering a call, returning a text, or checking the GPS – and the results are the same. According to the US Department of Transportation, taking 5 seconds to send a text (combining all three types of distraction) while driving at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field without watching where you’re going.
But what about hands free devices?
These give an appearance of safety, and many states have adopted laws mandating no handheld phone use or texting without banning cell phone use while driving altogether. Hands free devices, however, are really more about convenience than reducing the potential for distraction. Done separately, driving and having a phone conversation both require a great deal of concentration, and multi-tasking both engages your brain in such a way where you’re unable to do either very well, resulting in delayed reaction times. In a situation where you may only have a split second to see a signal, hazard, fellow driver, pedestrian, animal, or any other of a myriad of situations you might encounter on the road, this distraction can be harmful or fatal.
What can I do to be safer?
Since hands free devices only go so far in keeping your eyes on the road and focus engaged, the safest thing you can do is to ignore the call or text as long as the vehicle is in motion; if it’s imperative that you answer immediately, pull over to a safe location and park before doing so.
There are also a number of apps – many of which are free! – which detect when you’re driving and either automatically lock down features of the phone for fewer distractions (silencing text alerts and sending a preconfigured response, for example), reward you for time not spent on your phone while driving, or audibly encourage you to put the phone down and pay attention. Spend some time with the app recommendations from the Department of Motor Vehicles and USA Today and pick the one that’ll work best for you!