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How to Avoid Distracted Driving

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In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA). Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that nine people die daily in crashes reportedly involving distracted drivers. In most cases, mobile phones are the source of distraction.

But distracted driving goes beyond cell phone use, so what is distracted driving exactly and what must you do to prevent it? Since April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, it's the ideal time to have that discussion.

What is Distracted Driving?

According to the NHTSA, distracted driving is any activity that takes your attention away from driving. That includes using your mobile phone to talk or text, eating or drinking, talking to other passengers, adjusting your vehicle's electronics, navigation, or other features like heating and air conditioning. Putting on makeup, grooming or primping leads to distracted driving, too.

Of these, the most dangerous is texting while driving. Taking your eyes off the road for even the five seconds it takes to text is like driving across an entire football field at 55 mph with your eyes closed, according to the NHTSA.

That's because texting while operating a vehicle involves all three of the major types of distracted driving, as defined by the CDC:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off driving

Distracted driving not only endangers you, passengers in your vehicle and other drivers on the road. It also imperils pedestrians and people riding bikes, walking dogs or engaging in other activities outside your vehicle, too. So, it's imperative that you avoid driving without paying full attention to the road. And not just during distracted driving awareness month, but at all times.

How to Avoid Distracted Driving

It's a myth that you can multitask while you drive. Doing so often leads to delayed reaction or braking time—and collisions. Put your full attention on operating your vehicle safely once you turn on your ignition, a process that actually begins before you get into the driver's seat.

Before You Leave Home

To avoid distractions while you drive, give yourself extra time to complete these activities before you get into your car.

  • Be rested and calm: Driving while tired, angry, or upset is impaired driving. Be functioning at your best before you get behind the wheel.
  • Dress and groom: Get fully dressed, comb and style your hair and put on your makeup before you leave the house. Start earlier to complete these tasks if necessary so you don't need to do them in your car while driving.
  • Eat meals: Eating while driving takes your eyes and focus off the road and your hands off the steering wheel. Eat meals and drink beverages in a location where you can be seated.
  • Address children's and pet's needs: If you're taking children or pets with you in the car, make sure they're also fed and have their toileting and other needs met. That way, they don't become a distraction on the road.

In general, it's best to avoid treating your vehicle as an extension of your home, office or hotel room, for example, and use it only for focused driving.

Before You Start Driving

Once you get in your vehicle, it's drive time, which means your undivided attention needs to be on the road. Make sure you complete these tasks before putting your car in gear.

  • Put on your glasses: Whether you need sunglasses or prescription glasses to drive, remember to put them on before you start driving.
  • Set up navigation: Whether you're using your phone's navigation or your vehicle's built-in navigation, set it up before you begin driving. Make sure it's taking you on the route you want to go before you head out. If you're using your phone for navigation, mount it near eye level to avoid taking your eyes off the road.
  • Adjust mirrors: If you've ever tried this while driving, you know how difficult it can be to do it without taking your eyes off the road. Do it before you pull your car out of its parking place.
  • Program electronics: Radios or other in-vehicle electronics—including those for kids or other passengers—should get programmed before you move your vehicle.
  • Put phone in drive mode: Either use built-in features on your phone, like do not disturb, or download apps for that purpose. If possible, set your phone up to send callers or texters a message that you're driving and that you'll get back to them later. If you're unable to use your phone to text or talk, it won't be a temptation.
  • Properly secure children or pets: Children and pets should be placed in car seats and carriers correctly. Under no circumstances should they be allowed full freedom of movement during road trips, even short ones, that make them a driving distraction.
  • Lock your doors: Make sure children and pets can't unlock your doors while you're driving by locking them securely.
After you've taken care of these items, and secured yourself and your valuables in your car, you're ready to drive.

While You're Driving

No matter how careful and prepared you are, things can still happen when you're driving that can distract you. Here's a few ways to avoid them.
  • Make sure to stay gassed up: If you keep your vehicle's gas tank at least one-quarter full, you won't be distracted by concerns that you're about to run out of gas and must find a gas station to fill up.
  • Don't be distracted by your passengers: It's tempting to engage with your passengers while driving. That includes conversations that become distracting, passing things among one another or anything else that takes your attention away from the road. Remind your passengers to help you to keep them safe by allowing you to focus on driving.
  • Avoid getting angry or upset with other drivers: Driving can be hard and irritating, particularly when other drivers aren't behaving well. Try to avoid becoming angry or upset with other drivers on the road. Instead, report unsafe driving to the police once you've been able to safely pull over or reached your destination.
  • Stop your car when necessary: If you must stretch or rest, adjust your navigation, mirrors, or electronics, or take or make an important phone call or text, park your car in a safe place first.
By setting yourself up to drive safely, you'll avoid driving while distracted and keep yourself and others safe on the roads and the streets around them.