Distracted driving is not just a nuisance, it’s also a killer. Indeed, in 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 3,142 people were killed due to distracted driving. That represents nearly 1 in 14 motor vehicle deaths. Behind the grim statistics are the grieving families and friends suffering because of such senselessness. With a little bit of knowledge, you can avoid adding to these statistics by incorporating a few driver safety tips every time you get behind the wheel.
Recognizing Distracted Driving
There are several components to distracted driving. We dissect each one and offer an overview of certain local laws.
1. What is distracted driving?
Simply put, distracted driving is engaging in any type of activity in addition to driving your vehicle. Typically, this involves using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving. It can also include taking your eyes off the road to fiddle with the audio or navigation systems, turning your head around to talk with a rear seat passenger, eating and drinking, personal grooming, watching a video, and more. In other words, any type of activity that detracts from your driving should be avoided.
2. Put down your cell phone.
Cell phone use while driving is permitted in some states. Simply because it is allowed does not make it a good thing. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) there is no direct correlation between increased crash risk while talking on the phone. However, just the act of reaching for a phone and dialing can increase your crash risk threefold.
3. Avoid texting while driving.
Although talking while driving is not particularly risky in and of itself, there is another cell phone activity that has been proven deadly. Specifically, drivers that use their cell phones to text while driving are likely to take their eyes off the road for as many as five seconds. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of covering 100 yards (the length of a football field) without looking at the road ahead. So much can happen in that time, including a cat crossing your path, a bicyclist swerving into your lane or the car itself is drifting into another lane with deadly consequences following.
4. Teens are at greater risk, and parents need to set a positive example.
Young drivers are much more likely to embrace modern technologies than other demographic groups. While this technological knowledge presents a distinct advantage for them in life, it also means that they are more likely to engage in distracted driving with these very same technologies. At the same time, research has shown that parents that engage in distracted driving are more likely to have teens that do the same. And parents are generally clueless about the activity. Research has shown that teens send or receive text messages while driving 26 times more than their parents think. Therefore, parents, you should set the example so that your teen driver picks up only your good distraction-free driving habits.
5. Know your local laws.
Every state, territory, and district sets its own driving laws. Likely, you are very familiar with your state’s laws, especially if you recently took your driver’s test. But those laws fluctuate from state to state with varying degrees of penalties given depending on your age and your activities behind the wheel while driving. For instance, in Colorado, there is a ban on all cell phone use while driving for novice drivers, described as individuals under the age of 18. In New York, that ban extends to all drivers. Moreover, you are not allowed to text while driving in New York. In most states, these restrictions are considered a “primary law.” That means a police officer can pull you over and issue a ticket for that violation alone. A ticket means a fine, a court appearance, points on your driving record, and higher insurance costs.
Distracted Driving Essentials
Even where permitted, research shows that a cognitive distraction takes place whenever a driver engages in a phone conversation while behind the wheel. This includes hands-free phone conversations where the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel and his eyes are on the road. Certainly, you can miss important visual and audio cues that can help you avoid an accident.
So, to avoid distracted driving, it’s best to steer clear of those behaviors that can lead to an accident.
For example, if you receive a phone call while driving, do not answer it until you are safely off the road, preferably in a parking lot, at a rest stop, or on the shoulder of the highway, if allowed by law. No call is that important where you put yourself, other drivers, and pedestrians at risk. You can always allow messages to go to voice mail before finding a safe place to stop and call or text that person back. Distracted driving is a killer — avoid adding to those depressing statistics.
(2016, September 8). U Drive, U Text, U Pay. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. https://nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
(2013, May 29). New VTTI study results continue to highlight the dangers of distracted driving. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. https://featured.vtti.vt.edu/2013/05/new-vtti-study-results-continue-to-highlight-the-dangers-of-distracted-driving/
(n.d.). Distracted Driving and Cell Phone Use. Colorado General Assembly. https://leg.colorado.gov/content/distracted-driving-and-cell-phone-use
(2013, October 25). Cell phone use & texting. https://dmv.ny.gov/tickets/cell-phone-use-texting