Awareness and Forethought: Tips for Avoiding Distraction While Driving


Cars are such an integral part of our lives that their power and potential threat can be easily overlooked. The convenience of traveling at 55 mph is so commonplace that vigilance can fade and a driver be diverted from the most important matter at hand: driving. Even while alert, average reaction times are three seconds. When driving at 55 mph, about 80 feet are traveled every second, meaning that alert drivers on average travel 240 feet before they react. When distracted, that distance increases, and all too often becomes disastrous. In fact, in 2008, more than half a million people were injured in crashes that involved a distracted driver, and almost 6,000 people died, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA also found that about 20% of all crashes in that year involved a distraction of some sort.

Three types of distractions threaten drivers, according to the official U.S. government website on distracted driving. These categories are visual, which take your eyes from the road; manual, which involve removing your hands from the steering wheel; and cognitive, drawing your mind away from the task at hand. The most dangerous driving distractions are those which fall under more than one of these types. For example, adjusting the radio or other source of music requires at least glancing at the controls, reaching them, and thinking about which buttons to press. This is a common driving activity and yet, in the short amount of time it takes to complete, it creates a visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. Those few seconds may take just enough time for things to go wrong.

Other distractions range from those of which most drivers are guilty, adjusting music and drinking or eating, to the truly absurd and obviously dangerous, such as changing clothes or shaving. The easiest tips for avoiding distractions while driving are simple: don’t do those things that involve taking your eyes, hands, or mind from your task when you’re behind the wheel. The best tools for avoiding an accident caused by distraction are awareness and forethought. If you know the biggest risks that might affect you, you can take steps to prevent them before starting the car.

Take care of your needs before departing, whether they are eating, drinking, or smoking. Tend to all of your personal grooming at home. The time saved by doing makeup, combing hair, or shaving while on the way to your destination is not worth the expense of a crash caused by diverted attention.

If the destination is one with which you are not familiar, be sure to study any necessary maps or directions before leaving. If you have a Global Positioning System, program it ahead of time. Reading while driving is another of those distractions that violates all three types.

Traveling with children can create many diversions, from dropped toys to tantrums. Be sure that the children’s safety belts are fastened, they have any desired amusements at hand, the child safety locks are engaged, and that they understand the importance of behaving quietly. Explain that any toys dropped will have to wait, and that taking your attention from the road is dangerous.

Cell phones have become the biggest fear regarding driving distractions. Many states are creating laws that forbid talking on a cell phone while driving, and as texting becomes more common, laws target that activity also. Leave your phone off or on a silent setting while driving. If you must use your cell phone, find a safe place to pull over to do so.

Pulling over is a good way to deal with any distraction that cannot be avoided. Another is to have a passenger deal with any issues that might arise. But the main thought to keep in mind is that while you are driving, you should not be multitasking. Following these tips will help keep you safe, save you car repairs and hospital visits, and possibly save your life. Also remember: driving alertly is your only defense against people not as vigilant as you.

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