Distracted Driving

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Driving can be stressful. There’s a lot you have to focus on when driving – aggressive drivers riding your bumper, changing traffic patterns and lane congestions, to name just a few things.

Now, imagine if you’re trying to keep track of all these factors while distracted. As you can imagine, distracted driving can be dangerous and can lead to unfavorable outcomes. Below we’ll examine some of the behaviors that count as distracted driving and how you can prevent them from happening moving forward.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that impairs your ability to focus on the road. Examples of distractions include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Talking on the phone
  • Playing music loudly
  • Fidgeting with the car’s stereo/climate controls
  • Talking to someone in the car
  • Eating
  • Putting on makeup
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Sleep deprivation

Not surprisingly, distracted driving is on the rise. Insurance expert Laura Adams remarks, “Thanks to smartphones, texting and social media, car accidents resulting from distracted driving are on the rise. We often think that teens are the only drivers who engage in dangerous behaviors behind the wheel, but older drivers are just as susceptible.”

What makes distracted driving so dangerous is how it impacts our ability to drive. For example, drivers focusing on their phones more than the road might not see someone stop abruptly, resulting in delayed reaction time and an accident.

Moreover, juggling multiple things at one time doesn’t give drivers clear situational awareness meaning they’re making judgment calls based on incomplete information. This, coupled with delayed reaction times, can result in more accidents.

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Distracted driving statistics

Unfortunately, distracted driving can have tragic consequences. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in 2018, 2,841 people died as a result of distracted driving.

The CDC states when you look down to text or read a text for five seconds at 55 miles per hour, it’s the same as driving across a football field without looking at the road. What makes this illustration even more troublesome is that in 2017, 42% of high school students admitted to sending an email or text while driving.

Not only has distracted driving impacted those driving, but it’s also affected pedestrians. “Pedestrian deaths, which typically occur at crosswalks and intersections, are also going up due to distracted drivers. It’s a growing crisis with deadly consequences,” states Adams. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association states in 2018, 6,200 walkers were killed on U.S. roads, marking a 28-year high.

How distracted driving impacts insurance rates

Car insurance companies are cracking down on those caught texting and driving. If you receive a ticket for texting or are involved in a car accident where a distraction played a factor, your car insurance will be much more expensive moving forward.

The reason for this is car insurance providers assess risk when determining policy pricing. If your driving history shows you exhibit distracted driving tendencies, you are more likely to be involved in an accident due to your risky behavior.

How to prevent distracted driving

Adams recommends drivers “put their phones down to stay more focused on driving. This can help to reduce the number of distracted driving deaths.”

Tucking phones away is a great first step. Before putting your phone away, make sure to silence all notifications and tuck your phone into a purse or glove box. In this way, you can resist the urge to glance at it if a notification comes up but still have access if an emergency arises.

Another preventive tip is to limit all distractions. After starting your car, set your temperature controls to a comfortable setting. You can also use this time to load a playlist, podcast or turn to your favorite radio station. Doing this before driving prevents you from wanting to toggle with the dials while driving, which takes your attention away from the road.

As part of planning, you should eat and do your hair or makeup before leaving your home. This prevents you from trying to do two things at the same time, which impairs your ability to focus solely on driving.

You’ll also want to minimize other distractions like too many passengers and conversations. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid loud music. As exhilarating as it can be to blast your tunes, it also limits your ability to focus on your surroundings.

Meanwhile, if you’re tired, it’s important to pull off the road to a rest stop, hotel or parking lot. Step out of the car and get some fresh air. Walk around to get your muscles going. If you’re still too tired when you step back into your car, consider ordering an Uber or Lyft or having a friend pick you up. Driving while tired reduces your reaction times which makes it dangerous to drive.

In all instances, try to plan ahead to eliminate your distractions when on the road. This includes taking frequent breaks on longer drives and planning music so you’re not changing channels all the time.

The bottom line

Distracted driving is dangerous. Not only are you putting your life at risk, but you’re also putting the lives of other motorists, their passengers and pedestrians at risk as well. As incidents of distracted driving remain high, it’s vital to minimize distractions. This includes putting your phone on silent mode and accessing it only in emergency situations. By understanding the risks associated with distracted driving, you can take the steps necessary to eliminate distractions on your end, thereby becoming a safer driver.

Written by
Sean Jackson
Contributing writer
Sean Jackson is a contributing writer at Bankrate. Sean writes about budgeting, saving money and more.