July has been designated as Distracted Driving Awareness Month at Republic Services as a time to double down on driving distraction-free. Distracted driving is anything that takes one’s attention away from the task of driving. Distracted driving includes the obvious things, like talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, and talking to people in your vehicle; but there are other factors you may not think enough about.
Competition for Visual Processing
Taking your eyes off the road looking to see the name of the song on the radio or checking on your child in the backseat force your attention away from the task of safe driving. Unfortunately, people do these things all the time without much thought, but it just takes a second of distraction for a crash to occur. Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Perhaps your eyes are still on the road, but you take one hand off the wheel to fiddle with the radio or navigation system, or search for the piece of gum you dropped between the seats. Although your eyes are still on the road, if you need to stop suddenly or change lanes, you have far less control over your vehicle when just one hand is on the wheel.
Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel – these are characteristics of a driver paying attention. But an important missing factor is being mentally present. With endless lists of to-dos, worries about life’s pressures, and thoughts about plans for tomorrow, it’s easy to let your mind drift behind the wheel. When you’re not alert on the road, it’s easy to miss the car swerving in front of you or the pedestrian crossing the street.
Avoiding Distracted Driving
Driving distracted is deadly. It’s estimated that 3,522 lives were lost in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2021 – that’s 3,522 too many. Please consider the following tips for avoiding distractions behind the wheel:
- Put your phone away. If you need to use your phone, pull over and park in a safe location.
- Ask one of your passengers to respond to calls or messages for you when you’re driving.
- Never engage in social media scrolling or messaging behind the wheel.
- Adjust all vehicle settings (radio station/volume, GPS destination, climate control, etc.) before starting to drive.
- Avoid eating and drinking while operating a vehicle.
- Don’t drive if you’re upset, excited, or having strong feelings or physical symptoms that could interfere with your concentration.
- Keep pets in their carriers or secure them safely in the back of the vehicle.
- Secure loose objects so they do not roll around.
- If you’re in the car with a distracted driver, ask them to stop and focus on the road.
- Spread the word about distracted driving awareness. Ask your friends and family to join you in taking the pledge to not drive distracted.
For more information on safe driving behaviors, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.