Traffic accidents can occur anywhere on the road at any time. While most drivers try to exercise care to help protect themselves and those around them, others may engage in negligent acts that can substantially increase the risk of a dangerous collision. Some accidents involve only a single vehicle. Others involve multiple vehicles. In both cases, there are many reasons why a collision may occur.
The most common cause of collisions is the same across the United States: driver distraction. According to the CDC, around 400,000 people suffer serious injuries each year due to distracted driving incidents.
Why Is Distraction Such A Substantial Problem?
Driving requires a driver’s full attention. The driver’s eyes need to stay on the road so that they can see potential hazards, their hands need to stay on the wheel so they can control the vehicle, and they need to keep their attention on what is happening around them so that they can respond to potential threats on the road before they become a more serious problem.
Unfortunately, despite knowing the potential dangers associated with distracted driving, many people try to multitask behind the wheel instead of keeping their full attention on the road.
Distracted driving is a problem across America. In fact, many people believe that it has become an increasingly serious problem in recent years, with more drivers choosing to get behind the wheel while distracted than ever before.
Types Of Distraction On The Road
Distracted driving falls into three key categories: manual distraction, visual distraction, and cognitive distraction. Many behaviors involve more than one type of distraction.
#1. Manual Distraction
When a driver engages in an activity that involves manual distraction, they take one or both hands off of the wheel. Without hands on the wheel, many drivers have a hard time promptly reacting to road hazards, like debris, animals, or changing traffic conditions. Even taking one hand off the wheel to deal with other things in the vehicle can make it more difficult for the driver to steer away from a potential accident or avoid a hazard on the road.
#2. Visual Distraction
Visual distractions take a driver’s eyes off of the road. Many people think nothing of looking away from the road while driving. After all, the driver may have just looked out the windshield, and thinks they have has a good idea of what is ahead on the road. Seconds ago, the road looked completely clear.
Unfortunately, conditions on the road can change with astounding speed. A road that appeared clear moments before may suddenly have a vehicle in it. The car in front may stop abruptly. A child may come running out into the road. A car may pull out unexpectedly. Since the driver has taken their attention off the road, they may have no idea what happened and no way of responding appropriately to that potential hazard.
In just five seconds, at sixty miles per hour, a vehicle can travel the length of a football field. At higher rates of speed, the vehicle may travel even further. Keeping eyes on the road constantly may give a driver the only chance to react appropriately to potential hazards.
#3. Cognitive Distraction
A cognitive distraction takes the driver’s attention away from the road, even if their hands remain on the wheel and their eyes remain on the road. Cognitive distraction means that the driver’s attention has drifted to something other than driving. They might, for example, have started to think more about a conversation with a friend on the phone, dealing with a child in the back seat, or worrying over a work task than about what is happening on the road around them. Drivers suffering from cognitive distraction may lose track of their location on the road and the behavior of other drivers around them. Sometimes, they may engage in dangerous behaviors without even realizing that their mind has drifted.
Common Distractions Behind The Wheel
Americans have become more likely to multitask than ever, despite knowing that multitasking can actually decrease overall productivity, increase the risk of burnout, and make it difficult for the multitasking individual to give their full attention to any task. Unfortunately, many people choose to use their commute to take care of other responsibilities or to engage in phone conversations, emails, or other work-related tasks
#1. Smartphone Use
Phone use is one of the most dangerous distractions on the road. Texting and driving involve all three types of distraction: manual, since the driver’s hands have to leave the wheel to hold the phone; visual because the driver must look down at the phone to read a text message or respond to it, and cognitive since the driver’s attention is focused on the contents of the message instead of driving. Texting and driving take the driver’s attention off the road for longer than simply sending the message. For instance, have you ever been stopped at a traffic light that turns green and the driver in front has no idea? Many times, this is because the driver is engaging in dangerous distracted driving.
Many drivers struggle to ignore the chime or buzz of a phone while on the road. They may assume that they can safely glance down for just a second. They may simply have a fear of missing out that causes them to turn their attention to the phone as soon as it sounds. Regardless of the reason, texting and driving are incredibly dangerous.
Texting and driving, while a familiar cause of distracted driving, is not the only distraction offered by a smartphone. Some people check social media or email while driving, especially while stopped at a red light. Others may even try to play games while out on the road. The more engaging the content, the more it can pull the driver’s attention away from the road.
A Note On Other Smart Devices
When most people think about the dangers of texting and driving, they think about smartphones themselves. Many people, however, now choose to wear smartwatches or other wearable devices that connect directly to their phones. Others may connect the phones to the vehicle’s onboard computer and screen. These devices can actually prove more distracting than a smartphone.
Most people do not think twice about glancing down at their wrist to check a text message. As the message scrolls across the screen, however, it can take even longer for the driver to take in that message than it would read the same message on a smartphone screen. Smartwatches may have smaller text as well as smaller screens, which means the message may scroll through slowly. Silencing notifications while on the road can make it much easier for a driver to keep their full attention on driving.
#2. Navigation Systems
GPS (Global Positioning Systems) devices allow a vehicle’s location to be identified and make it easier than ever for people to navigate unfamiliar areas. Those devices can verbally notify the driver when they need to turn and may even offer valuable warnings that can make it easier for them to navigate through traffic. For example, GPS might let drivers know about hazards on the road, including stopped vehicles, or give them a heads up that they need to move into a particular lane to increase their odds of successfully navigating through a given area.
These devices, however, can also be a substantial distraction. A driver should avoid looking at the device as much as possible, and instead rely on the voice notification feature. Drivers should also avoid programming a navigation system while driving, including while stopping at red lights, stop signs, and intersections or otherwise interacting with the GPS device while behind the wheel.
#3. Kids In The Back
Most states have laws that state that children under a certain age must ride in the back seat of the vehicle. While this keeps kids safer during collisions, children in the backseat can pose an incredible distraction for a driving parent. Yelling, crying, or bickering children may pull the driver’s attention away from the road.
Sometimes, parents may try to engage with children to stop them from fussing. A parent might, for example, reach around to pick up a dropped item, which takes the parent’s hands off of the wheel. Other times, the parent may grow frustrated by the children in the back, especially if they have started arguing with one another. Kids often pose a more substantial distraction than adults in a vehicle, as they are often more demanding of the driver’s attention and are unlikely to recognize potential hazards around them that could cause the driver to need to pay more attention to the road.
#4. Music Controls
Modern vehicles often offer multiple options for listening to music while driving. Some drivers use the radio on the vehicle itself. Others may prefer to use their phones to control the music, especially if they want to listen to a specific playlist or song. Regardless of what form that music takes, however, many people struggle to keep their attention on the road while they change settings on the radio or look for a specific song or playlist.
The more complex the device, the more difficult it can prove for the driver to keep their attention on the road while taking care of the music. For example, a driver who connects their smartphone to the car’s speakers may spend several seconds looking exclusively at their phone to select a specific playlist, set it to shuffle or pick a particular song.
#5. Talking On The Phone
Many states have hands-free laws that make it illegal for drivers to use their cell phones while driving unless they use a hands-free device. However, whether you keep your phone in your hand—which could pose a manual distraction since it usually requires taking one hand off the wheel—or use a hands-free device that helps keep your hands and eyes on the road, talking on the phone can still be a distraction.
Drivers may not realize just how much of their attention shifts to a phone call, especially an engaging phone call or a business-related call that requires professionalism. Furthermore, while a person in the vehicle can monitor road conditions the person on the other end of the phone cannot see what is going on around the driver and might engage the driver at just the wrong moment.
#6. Eating And Drinking
Most drivers do not think twice about eating and drinking behind the wheel. If someone pulls through a drive-through on their way home, they might snag a couple of fries out of the bag so that they can eat a few while they are hot.
On a road trip, a driver might choose to eat an entire meal while driving so they don’t lose time on the road. Eating and drinking, however, can be a more potent distraction than most drivers realize. The driver has to use at least one hand for the food, rather than keeping it on the wheel, while they eat. They may also take their eyes off the road while they examine their food or get it ready.
Eating and drinking also take some of the driver’s attention off the road, which increases accident risk. Messy food can raise accident risk even further, since the driver may need to pay additional attention to their food to avoid a mess.
Distracted driving poses an immense hazard across the United States. It causes collisions more commonly than any other type of driver error behind the wheel. If you suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by distracted driving, or if you suspect distracted driving played a role in your motor vehicle collision, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about your right to seek compensation for your losses.