While vehicles have become safer with technological advances in safety features and government mandates for features to be standard on every vehicle rather than simply being an added feature buyers can opt for as they have been in the past.  And yet vehicular fatalities have been on the rise.  In fact, from 2015-2017 facilities from car accidents rose 7% each year after they had dropped in 2008 and only rising slightly in the years to follow.  Because of this steep rise, April has been deemed National Distracted Driving Awareness month by the National Safety Council in an attempt to address all types of distraction that could be causing this steep rise and help reduce the number of serious accidents that happen annually nationwide.

Types of Distractions

While there are many things that can distract drivers when they are behind the wheel, they actually break down into 3 main categories of distractions and can take place inside the vehicle or outside.

Distracted Driving breaks down into 3 different categories:

  • Visual – taking your eyes off the road while driving
  • Mental – taking your mind off driving
  • Physical – taking your hands off the wheel

Visual Distractions

These type of distractions happen when the driver takes their eyes off the road ahead and focuses them instead on something else. The danger of visual distractions is that if your eyes are not on the road, they can’t see the hazards that may be in the way such as a car stopping quickly in front of you or a deer in the road. These kinds of distractions can be either inside the vehicle or outside and could include changing the radio station, looking at your GPS or even gawking at an accident on the side of the road as you pass.

Mental Distractions

Mental distractions happen when the driver thinks about something other than the task of operating the vehicle safely while on the road.  Daydreaming, being emotionally upset, having a conversation with a passenger or even on a hands-free cell phone can distract the driver from focusing on their number one task… driving safely.

Manual Distraction

The last type of distraction while driving is a manual distraction.  These kinds of distractions happen when the driver takes their hands off the wheel and instead focuses on another task such as taking a drink, eating something or as absurd as it sounds… applying makeup while they are driving.

Combination of Distractions

In recent years, limiting cell phone use has become the primary focus of reducing accidents caused by distracted driving.  They are particularly dangerous because sending a text to someone, having a conversation with someone, posting on social media or even using your phone for navigation combines all three kinds of distraction, visually, manually and cognitively. Smartphones manage to roll all three of these distractions into one device.

Many people (80% to be exact) believe that hands-free talking, texting or navigating are safer but this couldn’t be further than from the truth.  But the reality is, talk to text can surprisingly be more distracting than by texting by hand! In over 30 studies, it has been proven time after time that the brain remains distracted despite the hands now being free.  Additionally, 53% of people of U.S. driver’s believe that hands-free units and infotainment centers in dashboards must be safer if they are built into current vehicles.  This myth has propagated a larger problem where drivers feel overconfident using these in-vehicle systems when they should instead be limiting their usage.


How To Avoid Distractions 

Cell phones have become a big problem when it comes to distracted driving and laws have been enacted to help try and stop drivers from using them behind the wheel.  Although some states have made it illegal to talk and text, New Jersey is the only state to enact a Just Drive law aimed at limiting any and all distractions for drivers that takes their attention and focus off their primary purpose behind the wheel which is to drive safely.

While there may not be such a law in West Michigan, we can all take a note and take a personal approach to avoiding anything that distracts us while we’re on the road and behind the wheel.  Start by turning your cell phone on to airplane mode or do not disturb and stowing it away.  By doing so, you’ll avoid the temptation to check those notifications as they come in or answering a call when you should just let it go to voicemail.  Additionally, be sure to secure bags to keep items from rolling around and pets in a carrier to keep them safe, and off your lap.  Preset favorite radio stations to avoid having to concentrate on searching for a song and never eat or drink behind the wheel.



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