Module 8: Risk Management 04 (Distractions)

8 min read

Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger you, your passengers, and others on the road.

There are three main types of distraction:2

Visual: taking your eyes off the road
Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
Cognitive: taking your mind off drivin

  • In the United States, over 3,100 people were killed and about 424,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2019.
  • About 1 in 5 of the people who died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2019 were not in vehicles―they were walking, riding their bikes, or otherwise outside a vehicle.

Distracted driving is the act of driving while performing other activities that distract the driver’s attention from the road. Distractions have been shown to compromise the safety of the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles. What is distracted driving? No distracted driving sign is any activity that takes your attention away from driving, such as talking or texting on the phone, eating and drinking, talking to other passengers, and anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving safely. Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds and, at 55 mph, it’s like driving across a football field with your eyes closed. Drivers should have rules for passengers in their vehicles beginning before the vehicle begins to move. It is important to enforce the rules of wearing seat belts. All passengers must be required to wear their seat belts for the entire time they are riding in the vehicle (only passengers 17 and older in the back seat are not required by law to wear a seat belt). Passengers are not allowed to obscure or obstruct the driver’s ability to see or hear surrounding traffic and road. The driver should be the only one to turn the radio on, adjust or turn off. The volume should be low enough to be able to hear the sirens of emergency vehicles. Conversations with passengers, their needs and wants, or other passenger actions should never affect the safety of the driver and the vehicle. If passengers are interfering with the act of driving, you must get out of the way to deal with their needs, wants, or problems. A driver must have definite rules for his vehicle. This is not inconsiderate, but it is the safest and most responsible thing for you to do. People should provide safe and quiet distractions for their passengers so that they are less likely to distract the driver. Quiet items such as books, portable video players, and games are good distractions and also a good way to keep passengers of all ages entertained. Making frequent stops also helps passengers stay comfortable during a trip.  

Pets can also be a distraction. For safety reasons, people should always transport their pets in a carrier cage or kennel. An animal that is free by the vehicle can jump on the driver, obstruct the driver’s vision or even crawl near the driver’s feet and interfere with his acceleration and braking. Although a carrier cage is the best choice, many stores also sell harnesses to help secure the pet to the vehicle seat. The collision data shows why it is important to secure a pet in the vehicle. In the event of a collision, an unsecured pet becomes a missile. The pet almost never survives impact with the interior of the vehicle or being ejected from the vehicle. There are documented cases of animal teeth or claws that have embedded themselves in the nape of a person occupying the vehicle by flying through the car in a panic and struggling to survive. Although it may seem wrong to lock a dog or cat in a carrier, this is actually the most loving thing one can do for a pet traveling in a vehicle.

Insects can distract a driver, either causing fear or obstructing the driver’s visibility. When an insect is inside the vehicle, the driver must pull over before attempting to remove or kill it. Do not allow an insect to distract you while driving so that you are driving unsafe or causing a collision. It is much better to be stung or bitten by an insect than to cause an accident. The driver should not open the window when the vehicle is moving, as it can cause the insect to fly into his mouth, hair or clothing and increase the level of fear or anxiety. Insects outside the vehicle can distract drivers by obstructing their vision when they crash into the windshield. Be sure to keep your windshield washer fluid reservoir full so you can keep your windshield clear of both insects and anything else that restricts your vision.

On the rare occasion when insects or animals cause a distraction, it is important to drive safely and keep your attention on the road despite the distraction. Animals outside the vehicle can be distracting in a number of ways. Animals on the side of the road are only a concern if they can potentially enter your travel route. To stay safe, slow down and give animals the extra space as you would with a parked car or other hazard on the side of the road. Although it is best to try to avoid hitting an animal if this is possible, do not lose control of the vehicle when trying to avoid hitting the animal. Although hitting an animal can make you feel very sad, the life of an animal is not as valuable as human life. Protect people in your car and other road users before the animal.

The use of cell phones while driving has now been restricted in most states and this includes texting. These laws prohibit or limit the use of mobile phones, often even when they have hands-free devices. The prohibition on the use of mobile phones while driving is typically considered a secondary violation, such as the consequences of not wearing a seat belt. Still, the driver is distracted from weather and road conditions when using voice-operated devices and hands-free devices, although not to the same degree as with normal devices. These devices are illegal to use for teens and their use should be limited to more experienced drivers. If a driver must use an electronic device such as a cell phone, they must exit the road and stop before making or receiving a call, or in any case they must have one of their passengers do so. Talking to another person in a vehicle is not as dangerous as talking on a mobile phone, since the passenger can help observe what is happening and will generally stop talking should a situation arise. Still, care must be taken to ensure that the driver is not distracted by the conversation.

Many people try to use other devices while driving, such as a PDA, music players with headphones, and even laptops, DVD players, and books. For obvious reasons, these actions are completely incompatible with driving and are extremely dangerous. It is illegal and extremely dangerous to wear hearing aids while driving, even if it is only in one ear. This is why vehicles are equipped with horns. Other items that can serve to entertain passengers are deadly to drivers. Even doing things that can make driving easier, such as listening to the radio or using the navigation system, can be deadly distractions if you focus too much on them. Set up these items as well as possible before driving and make only minor adjustments as you drive or have one of your passengers assist you. If something needs more attention (such as changing the destination in the navigation system) get out of the way to make any necessary adjustments.

Experienced drivers are often too comfortable with their skills. Sometimes they overestimate your ability to share your attention between driving and other tasks. A driver’s attention should be focused on driving. A safe driver cannot and should not put any mental resources into activities other than driving such as eating, shaving, applying makeup, combing hair, reading or smoking. Such routine activities can be a major distraction. While putting food in your mouth and chewing do not directly affect your driving, eating can cause problems that could hamper your ability to drive. Drivers who engage in maintenance activities, such as applying makeup or shaving, indicate that they are more concerned with themselves than with driving and sharing the road with others. Smoking causes the driver to take their hand off the steering wheel, causes them to cough and have reduced visibility, and smoking also has the risk of hot ashes falling off and burning them. There are even drivers who try to smoke, hold a phone to their ear, and move the wheel with their knees. These drivers are on the fast track to a collision that is just waiting to happen.