Driving a car is often seen as a right of passage for teenagers. After a couple of years, driving becomes incredibly normal; you drive to work, home, restaurants, friends’ houses. Whether you’re a brand new driver or an experienced one, you should always be paying attention and do what you can to avoid getting distracted.
Most people think of texting when they hear “distracted driving,” and texting definitely plays a large role. However, that’s only one of many distractions that could lead to an accident. There are three different types of distracted driving: cognitive, visual, and manual. With every distraction, there’s something simple you can do to stay focused on the path ahead.
Eyes on the Prize
What can you do in two seconds? Probably nothing productive. The maximum amount of time a driver can safely divert their attention from the road is two seconds. Any more of a visual distraction can be detrimental to your safety and others’ on the road. Whether you’re checking out an accident or staring at a beautiful sunset—keep it brief. Or better yet—stay focused and keep on driving.
Similarly, if you find yourself looking over at your phone at every ping and ring, you’re eventually going to get a notification that captures more of your attention. Those little drop-down previews of notifications that show up on your home screen can be convenient, but if you find yourself trying to read them, then you’re putting yourself in danger. The best thing you can do is put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” so you’re not even tempted to peek.
Clear Your Mind
The largest cause of distracted driving crashes (at 62%) is a driver being lost in thought or letting their mind wander. Cognitive distraction takes your mind off the road. If you drive the same route all the time, you may find yourself zoning out and not even remembering parts or all of the drive. This can be especially dangerous if the road conditions are anything but perfect.
Talking to passengers can also be distracting. This isn’t to say you can’t talk to your friend in the passenger seat, but if you find yourself moving past chit chat toward something more volatile like a heated argument, it’s time to pull over in a safe area. Driving while crying or visibly angry increased the risk of crashing ten-fold. Whatever you’re arguing about isn’t worth the potentially deadly consequences of a car accident.
Keep Your Hands on the Wheel
I don’t know about you, but there’s no way for me to eat a cheeseburger, drink my ice tea, dip fries in ketchup, and still continue to drive safely. Manual distracted driving takes one or both of your hands off the steering wheel, which means eating while driving is a big no-no.
Even if you desperately don’t want to go into your choice fast food restaurant, you can always order in the drive-through and stay in the parking lot to eat. I promise it won’t take long.
Another manual distraction culprit is your driving entertainment, like your music or podcasts. If your podcast episode has come to an end and you’re ready for more, make sure your queue is set to autoplay, so you don’t need to go searching. The same goes for your music. Set your playlist before you put it in drive.
“I Only Text at Stoplights”
Texting and driving deserves its own call-out here because it encompasses all three types of distraction. Even if you “only text at a stoplight,” it’s still a dangerous and punishable offense.
In many states, including Indiana, it is illegal for any driver to type a text message, transmit a message, or read emails while driving. This is still true if you are stopped at a light. If you’re under 18, then you aren’t allowed to use your cell phone for any reason, even if it’s hands-free. If you get pulled over, not only could the ticket be costly and affect your driving record, but think about the damage you could do if you’re looking at your phone for even a few seconds.
Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Whether the distraction is manual, visual, cognitive, or all three at once, there are simple ways to keep them to a minimum. Don’t forget that you are navigating a high-speed two-ton metal machine down the road surrounded by other people doing the same thing. Keep your eyes, hands, and brain distraction-free.