The Ultimate Distracted Driving Guide: What It Is & How to Prevent It

 

Nine people may have died today because a distraction kept their eyes off the road.

Or, at least, nine is the average number of people who die from distracted driving daily. In reality, today, it could have been seven – or maybe it was 10. But no matter how many people died as a result of distracted driving today, it was too many.

Let this all sink in.

This isn’t some abstract concept. Most of us drive, and most of us have distractions. You check a text when we know it’s risky because you’re in the middle of a juicy conversation. Or you start digging in the backseat to find something that really should be able to wait.

 

These are mistakes we’ve all made.

But some people pay the ultimate price. And none of us are immune. 

Fortunately, regardless of what we’ve done in the past, this fate is completely preventable. 

What is Distracted Driving?

The name distracted driving is rather self-explanatory, but since this is such an important and life-saving topic, we need to cover some of the basics in detail.

Some people mistakenly think that distracted driving only applies to mobile phones. And it's true that mobile phones (including texting, social media, and any other mobile-related distraction) are a major problem. But they aren’t the only problem.

Any time you aren’t delivering your full and undivided attention to the road while driving, you are guilty of distracted driving.

Here are a few common distractions people face while driving:
  • Phone notifications
  • Eating or drinking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Deep conversations with a passenger
  • Taking photos or videos
  • Changing music (especially changing the input or something more complicated)
  • Navigating through GPS (either on your phone or car's technology system)
  • Posting on social media or checking your favorite sites
 
And in truth, there's really no excuse for distracted driving.
  • If you do it all the time, you're only increasing your odds of having a potentially fatal accident/
  • What if you don't realize traffic picked up because you were distracted? Another distracted driver is likely to barrel into your car because it's not logical that you're still at a standstill when everyone else is moving.
  • Experience does make you a better driver, but it doesn't give you carte blanche to be reckless.
  • In the case of distracted driving, there isn't safety in numbers. Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it safe. Remember, nine people are dying daily from this completely preventable cause.
  • According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, it takes an average of 5 seconds to send a text. And in that time, you could drive the length of a football field at 55 mph. Imagine all that could happen in the distance between endzone and another without your eyes on the road. 
Teenage distracted driving statistics

Distracted driving is a significant problem among teenage drivers for a few reasons. First, teenagers today have grown up with technology – and technology is a major distraction. 
Second, teenagers aren’t terribly experienced at driving. After all, they have only been driving for a few years at most. 

Here are some statistics about teenage driving that you need to know.

Not only are teenagers more vulnerable to distracted driving, but they’re more likely to get into a car accident while distracted. So, whether you’re just learning to drive yourself or you’re teaching a teenager how to drive, understand that this is a dangerous practice that deserves your attention. 

 
Exactly how distracted driving causes accidents

By now, we’ve looked at some statistics that link distracted driving to car accidents. There’s a clear correlation that we can’t ignore. But how exactly does distracted driving cause car accidents?
Here’s the deal.
Whenever you take your eyes off the road, you’re increasing your risk of getting into a car wreck. 

There are two ways it could happen:

  1. When you take your eyes off the road, you may inadvertently swerve into another lane. You’re probably aware of what’s on the road ahead before you remove your eyes from the road, but when you look in another direction, you may sometimes turn the wheel in that direction. This is especially true when you’re reaching across the passenger seat or in the back seat. 
  2. Another driver, animal or pedestrian may do something to put you in danger. In the blink of an eye, something may change. You may instantly find yourself in a situation where you need to react quickly. If your attention is elsewhere, you may not have enough time to react. 
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gotten behind the wheel. The reasons why we’re likely to get into an accident while distracted have very little to do with experience. It’s true that experienced drivers may fare better when they need to make a split-second reaction to prevent a crash. But it’s not going to save your life in every case. Regardless of your experience level, avoid distractions while driving. 

 
How to prevent distracted driving

The best way to prevent distracted driving is also the simplest. Whenever a distraction tempts you, think about whether it's worth your life.
In every case, the answer is no. 
Being late to work or an appointment isn't worth dying for. Responding to your crush's text won't save your life in a crash. It won't make anyone feel better in your last moments. These distractions suddenly become irrelevant when your life is on the line. This isn't a regret you want to live with.
If you’re in the car with another passenger, especially an adult, ask them to reach for something or look at the GPS navigation. It’s much better to ask for help than it is to get into a car accident. 

How to prevent texting while driving

Have you ever heard of the "X the text" movement? This campaign began with AT&T, and it aimed to offer an alternative to texting and driving.

The idea was to send a short response of: #X whenever you get a text while driving. And it’s definitely a better alternative to reading and responding to texts while you’re driving.

But today, there are even better alternatives that will automatically send messages on your behalf. This way, you never have to pick up your phone. 

One way you can do this is by turning on an auto-reply every time you get behind the wheel. 

How to setup an auto-reply while driving on an iPhone

On an iPhone, you can do this in your Do Not Disturb settings. Scroll down to Auto Reply and tap it. Scroll down and set Do Not Disturb While Driving. This mode will automatically turn on whenever you’re in a car that starts accelerating, so you may have to turn it off when you’re a passenger. 

How to setup auto-reply while driving on an Android

If you have Google Pixel or Android Auto, you have options for setting an auto-reply while driving. The rest of us still must rely on an app – but it can be done.

There’s a free app called Driving Detective that will automatically turn on your auto-reply message while you're driving. All you have to do is download the app from Google Play and give it Do Not Disturb access.  

Tips for maintaining better focus while driving

So, we’ve covered the dangers of distracted driving and how to avoid them – especially how to avoid texting while driving. 

But sometimes, you may not always be aware that distractions are keeping you from focusing on the road. Fortunately, there are some best practices for maintaining better focus while driving. 

Here are some tips to help keep your focus on the road. 

  • Keep your eyes where you’re going – Don’t just look at the road, look in the precise direction you’re going. In most cases, it’s straight ahead of you on the road.
  • Turn your cell phone off or on Do Not Disturb Mode – The cell phone is one of the biggest distractions, and it’s especially a problem whenever the notification sound goes off. If it’s off or on Do Not Disturb, you’re removing the temptation to check your phone.
  • Face your tardiness head on – No one wants to be late. But if you truly can’t help it and find yourself in a situation where you’re rushing, take a deep breath before you get into the car. Send a text or place a phone call to let someone know you’re going to be late. Then, put on your makeup at home and drive the speed limit. Don’t try to multitask while driving to save time.
  • Get everyone set before you put the key in the ignition – If you have kids in the back seat, make sure they have everything they need before you start driving. Take a few extra minutes to make sure your kid can reach everything he or she may want or need during the drive. 
  • Check directions before you leave – Even if you are going to rely on GPS to get you where you’re going, check the route before you leave. If the GPS takes you off track or is set on the wrong destination, you may not realize until you’re too far off track. And once you realize you’re off track, you’re likely to scramble for your phone and split your attention between driving and navigating.
How to avoid three types of distractions while driving
 
There are three basic types of distraction you may encounter while driving. Most people only think about visual distractions (like the cell phone), but there are two other types of distractions that might cause problems for you.
Here’s how to avoid these three types of distractions while driving. 

Visual

Visual distractions are the most common distractions, and we’ve covered these distractions at great length. This is the cell phone ringing, the radio station you want to change and the GPS directions you want to check. 
We’ve also covered a few tips for keeping visual distractions under control, but it also takes practice and a no-nonsense approach. Rely on tools like Do Not Disturb to help keep you from being tempted by distractions, but you also must stick to strict rules on distractions.

Manual

Manual distractions are sometimes also visual. But the difference here is that the manual distractions are distractions that force you to take your hands off the wheel. 
This type of distraction might be something like grabbing your drink or eating while driving. When you take your hands off the wheel, you’re not as capable of reacting. And this can lead to an accident. So even if you’ve never taken your eyes off the road, you’re distracted. 
Think about it this way: If you have to turn the wheel quickly and completely, you’ll need a few seconds to get your other hand back on the wheel. That’s a distraction from your main purpose (driving).

Cognitive

The final distraction type is cognitive. Cognitive distractions are those that take your mental focus away from driving. 
Oftentimes this is a good conversation you’re having, whether with a passenger or on the phone. Getting lost in your thoughts could even be a cognitive distraction. 
Have you ever driven somewhere on autopilot? You end up getting to your destination, but you don’t have a clear memory of driving from point A to point B. 
The only way you can mitigate the effects of cognitive distractions is to become aware of them. If you find you're getting too wrapped up in a thought or conversation.
And if you’re feeling emotionally distressed, try to calm down before you get into the car to drive. 

Distracted driving prevention technology

Although technology has provided us with many more distractions than we’ve ever had before, technology can also help us overcome distractions.
In this case, there’s a gray area between the problem and the solution.
Nevertheless, technology can be a major asset in the fight against distracted driving. 

New car technology

Most new vehicles hitting the lots today are equipped with full-service infotainment systems designed to help you control the navigation, audio, and temperature. Your infotainment system will also likely allow you to add hands-free functionality to your phone. And, as we've covered previously, it may also send auto-replies to let people know when you’re driving. 
In addition to these technologies that will help keep you from getting distracted while driving, there are other technologies that can reduce the likelihood of an accident if you do get distracted.
These technologies include things like lane departure warnings, automatic cruise control, and active lane assist.
As new car technologies are released, we should expect to see fewer cases of distracted driving accidents. But this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Even when you’re driving a fully autonomous vehicle, you must still be present and alert while the car is in motion. 

Apps

If you can’t afford a new car just yet, you can still leverage technology to help you avoid driving distractions. All you need are the right apps installed on your phone. 
Here are two apps that can help you avoid distracted driving.
Drive Mode
You can use this app to silence alerts while driving and respond to messages through hands-free voice control. You can even use your app to control music. There's an app for Android and one for iPhone, so anyone can use this one. 

Driving Detective

If you have an iPhone, your phone already has the functionality to help avoid distracted driving. But this is one area where Android hasn't quite caught up (aside from Google Pixel).
So if you want to send an auto-reply to people who call and text while you’re driving, you’ll need an app like Driving Detective. Fortunately, this app is free and extremely easy to use. 

Distracted driving vs. drunk driving
 
Now that you know the extent of the distracted driving problem, you might be wondering which is worse: Distracted driving or drunk driving.
And the answer may surprise you.
Many people believe that distracted driving is actually worse than drunk driving. But this is a difficult thing to measure. 
Here’s what we know…
More people die from alcohol-related accidents than distracted driving accidents each year.
For example, 10,497 people died from alcohol-related car accidents in 2016 while 3,285 people died as a result of a distracted driver. 
And while this may seem cut and dry, it’s simply not. 
Whenever there’s an accident involving alcohol, there’s never a question. Even if the accident was fatal for the driver, the driver will be tested for blood alcohol levels. 
Except in the case of a fatal hit and run, we will always know if the driver has been drinking.
The same can’t be said for distracted driving. 
In order to connect a distraction with a fatal accident, the driver must live to admit his wrongdoing, or there must be obvious evidence. An example of obvious evidence would be if the phone was still in the driver's hand and/or she was in the middle of writing a text.
Otherwise, it’s very difficult to connect a distraction with the accident. What if someone looked away from the road to check their phone’s GPS navigation? How would you know that’s what caused the accident? The act of using your phone for navigation doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be distracted by it, so it’s not a clear causation. 
So even though the death toll seems lower for distracted driving, we know there are many more deaths that come as a result of distractions than we realize. 
To understand the scope of the problem, count how many drivers you see on their phones in any given day. If you commute in traffic, you’ll probably see many. 
Many people are guilty of distracted driving, and we know that the practice can easily cause an auto accident. 
It's difficult to say conclusively which is worse between drinking and driving or distracted driving. If you're in the camp that thinks drunk driving is worse, you may point to the fact that your entire driving experience is impaired instead of just a few moments. And that's a valid point.
But no one can argue that both practices are entirely irresponsible and can put lives at risk. So instead of arguing about which is worse, we should avoid them both and encourage others to do the same.

Conclusion
 
Distracted driving is a large and growing problem in our society.
And while texting and mobile devices are a major source of distraction, they aren’t the only source. 
In order to avoid potentially fatal consequences, follow the tips outlined here to identify and avoid the three types of distractions (visual, manual and cognitive). And wherever possible, rely on technology to help keep you on track. 
You may not have a perfect record at the start, but with practice, you’ll get better at avoiding distractions while driving.  It’s especially important to set a good example when you have impressionable kids in the car. Your habits are likely to become their habits, so make them positive. 
As an organization that provides mobility and takes great value in our customers’ safety, we invite you to partner with us to eliminate distracted driving. Take the Jim Ellis pledge to drive safe. By signing the pledge, you promise to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on the drive ahead. 

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