Operating an automobile is a divided-attention activity by its very nature. Drivers must be aware of the vehicle’s speed, position on the roadway, and proximity to other vehicles. They must watch for all sorts of road hazards, while trying to navigate the most efficient route. This amount of multitasking is hard enough. Additional distractions – like a bothersome passenger or a hot cup of coffee – can significantly increase the chances of an accident.
Three Forms of Driver Distraction
Safe drivers are alert and ready to respond. Remaining this way for extended periods of time involves three primary functions: visual awareness; manual dexterity; and cognitive engagement. Distractions are categorized based on which of these functions they impair. The following chart illustrates this concept.
|Function Affected||Result of Distraction||Common Example|
|1) Visual awareness||Eyes divert from roadway||Texting|
|2) Manual dexterity||Hands come off controls||Applying makeup|
|3) Cognitive engagement||Mind becomes preoccupied||Road rage|
Learning to recognize each form of driving distraction is helpful. Drivers can become more self-aware and change their behaviors. Passengers can benefit as well, because they will be more likely to notice distracted driving before it is too late.
For example, consider a driver who reaches toward the backseat to tend to a child. The motion might seem like second nature to a parent. Perhaps it can be done without even looking away from the road. Regardless, reaching backward reduces the driver’s manual dexterity, and that is dangerous. The driver should recognize the risk and pull over to the side of the road. Or another passenger could tend to the child, allowing the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel.
Smartphones: Multiple Distractions in One Device
A number of states make it illegal to talk on a handheld phone while driving, and nearly all states prohibit texting while driving. Modern smartphones can distract drivers in other ways, however. In addition to talking and texting, here are some smartphone uses that drivers should avoid:
- Scrolling social media feeds
- Instant messaging (Snapchat, etc.)
- Handheld use of map and navigation apps
- Taking selfies
- Controlling the car stereo through the phone
- Reaching for a dropped phone
- Plugging the phone into a charger.
Smartphones are not just for communicating. They are interactive entertainment devices. In this regard, smartphones represent all three forms of driver distraction – visual, manual, and cognitive. Drivers with the willingness and discipline to turn off their phones will instantly eliminate a major source of distraction behind the wheel.
Become a Part of the Solution
Each person who commits to being an attentive driver helps make the roadways a little safer. But imagine if everyone took an extra step to spread awareness. In no time at all, we could see significant results.
Voting for local ordinances and supporting enforcement efforts are great ways to show support. You can choose to purchase vehicles and smartphones with new technologies that address distracted driving. Discuss the issue with a teen driver you know, share a Facebook post, or visit distraction.gov to sign a pledge. Working together we can reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by distracted driving.