How can you reduce or avoid distracted driving? Our top tip: You can start by remembering that driving is about driving. Keep your eyes on the road and your mind on the matter at hand.
Why should you care about distracted driving? Because according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in the U.S. in 2016. It also contributed to 391,000 injuries.
Why is this happening? Because there are a lot of distractions in your modern car, ranging from complicated infotainment centers and navigation displays, to omnipresent mobile phones, to music and talkative passengers. As the NHTSA points out, “distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
When you boil it down, there are two major forms of distracted driving: (1) taking your eyes off the road; and (2) taking your mind off the task of driving. Both can be very dangerous, but taking your eyes off the road should be avoided at all costs. At 65 mph, if you take your eyes off the road for 3 seconds, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded. That’s crazy. Even if you are traveling at a safe following distance at highway speed, a quick check of your phone could cause you to rear-end the car in front of you if it slows suddenly. Cognitive distraction involves multi-tasking in the car: Your eyes are on the road, but your mind is elsewhere: You are also talking on your phone, talking with a passenger, thinking about work, or singing along to your favorite song. In these situations, your reaction times may be considerably slower than they would be if driving had your undivided attention.
So how can we reduce distracted driving? It’s unrealistic to advise people to put their phones in the trunk when they drive and turn off their infotainment centers (and it’s not necessarily a good safety tip, either). It’s equally unrealistic to advise people to take a vow of silence every time they get behind the wheel and summon chess master-like powers of concentration.
But we can offer a number of pragmatic, real-world tips to reduce distracted driving:
Put the phone away when you drive. If you have strong self-control, place your phone somewhere you can reach it in an emergency, but not handle it while you are driving. Ignore it while you are driving.
Put your phone on “do not disturb.” If you have an iPhone with iOS 11 or newer, this feature is built-in and we would encourage you to use it. If your phone uses a different operating system, there are a number of free Apps that allow you to block calls and texts while you drive. We would encourage you to install one on your phone.
Never text and drive. The AAA PSA on driving while “intexticated” vividly illustrates the perils inherent in this tragically all-too-common practice. If you need to send a text (or place a phone call), the best practice is to find a place to park before doing so. If you get a text while you are driving, don’t read it. Have it read to you or read it when parked.
Infrequent infotainment. Check your navigation, stereo, car monitor and similar features as infrequently as possible. And when you do, make sure you are traveling at a safe speed and at a safe following distance without cyclists or pedestrians near your path. If possible, use voice-command and audio as much as possible to interact with these systems so your eyes stay on the road.
If you must talk on your phone, go handsfree. Keep your eyes on the road when placing or taking a call. If you have to look at your phone to use it, you are endangering yourself and others. If you have an older car that does not have built-in Bluetooth, you can still go handsfree for less than $20 with a high-quality aftermarket Bluetooth FM Transmitter.
If you are multi-tasking, slow down and increase your following distance. Your reaction times will be slower, so you need to give yourself more time if you are talking on the phone (handsfree!), singing to music, talking with a passenger, or just thinking about all the things you need to get done that day.
We believe driving is safer and more fun when you are focused on driving. Do yourself and your friends and family a favor and make a concerted effort to follow our tips and reduce your distracted driving for the next two weeks. See what works best for you, and then keep doing it. Thanks for leading by example and Driving2Save.