Pop quiz: What's the most dangerous activity to perform while driving?
A. Drinking a cup of coffee
C. Changing music
D. All of the above
Answer: D. All of the above. Taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel or your mind off driving can lead to fatal crashes. In 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver, and a huge number—more than 500,000—were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In fact, driving while distracted is roughly equivalent to driving drunk, according to a recent editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine. Distractions endanger drivers, passengers, other motorists and pedestrians.
Don't Text and Drive
Texting on a cell phone or a handheld device is the most alarming practice because it involves all three types of distraction: visual, mental and manual. Research suggests drivers who use handheld devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. A texting ban is in place in 32 states across the U.S.
To stay safe on the road, avoid all of these distracting activities:
- Using a cell phone—including a hands-free device
- Talking to passengers. For teen drivers, the more passengers in the car, the higher the chances of distraction.
- Grooming (e.g., putting on makeup, shaving, combing your hair, etc.)
- Eating and drinking (e.g., a cup of coffee, sandwich, etc.)
- Reading, including maps
- Using a PDA or navigation system, such as a GPS
- Watching a video
- Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player
Also, adopt these safe driving practices from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
- Plan Ahead: Read maps and check traffic conditions before you get on the road.
- Stow electronic devices: Turn off your phone and other devices before you drive so you won't be tempted to use them while on the road.
- Stash loose gear and possessions that could roll around and distract you.
- Prepare the kids. Get the kids buckled in and situated with snacks and entertainment before you start driving.
- Pull over to talk on the phone or send a text, or to care for the kids.
- Finish dressing before you get in the car. Brush your hair, shave, put on make-up and tie your necktie before you leave home or once you reach your destination.
- Get your brain in gear. Focus on driving safely. Scan the road, use mirrors and practice identifying orally what you just saw—There's a black car in my blindspot—to enhance your engagement as a driver.
Making an effort to focus on the road, staying watchful for hazards, and keeping both hands on the wheel can help improve your overall awareness and driving behavior—and can protect you, your loved ones, and everyone else using the roadway from injury and harm.
Distraction.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Transportation;
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety