Distracted driving has been a matter of concern ever since the first automobiles rolled off the assembly line. In the early 1900s, when windshield wipers were first introduced on American cars, some worried that they would lull drivers into a daze.
In the 1930s, state legislators attempted to restrict the installation of car radios on the grounds that they could distract drivers and lead to crashes. Today, with text messages, social media notifications and talking GPS apps, it’s no surprise that mobile devices have become synonymous with distracted driving.
Statistics show that in 2020, roughly 8% of all fatal crashes involved distracted drivers. Of those distracted driving fatalities, 12% involved a cell phone. That means 88% of distracted driving fatalities didn’t involve a phone!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of distractions while driving:
- Visual: Looking away from the road
- Manual: Activities that need you to take your hands off of the steering wheel
- Cognitive: Thinking about things other than driving
Common Causes of Distracted Driving
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that distracted driving led to the deaths of 3,522 people in 2021 and the injury of many more people on roads in the United States. In the vast majority of these cases, the distraction was completely avoidable. Here are the nine common distractions:
- Interacting with a passenger
- Talking on a cellphone
- Holding an object other than a cellphone (i.e. a pet)
- Holding a cellphone
- Adjusting radio/climate control
- Other cellphone interaction
What Can You Do To Prevent Distracted Driving?
Some of these distractions can be difficult to avoid. After all, it’s not like you’re going to go on a four-hour road trip and not talk to your passengers. In situations like this, it’s helpful to find ways to minimize the impact of distractions.
One of the safest ways to keep yourself from becoming a distracted driver is to manage non-driving tasks before you get on the road. Eating, drinking, programming your GPS or assisting passengers can be safer if done while parked.
Let Passengers Help
Passengers can be distracting. This is one of the reasons why most states passed graduated driver licensing laws restricting teens from having passengers in the car during their first year of driving. Letting your passengers help you with tasks —like answering the phone or adjusting the radio —can help you remain more focused on driving.
Pull Over To Attend To Children
If children are in the car, be sure to pull over to a safe spot before tending to their needs. Don’t turn to reach into the back seat while driving or at a stop light.
Pull Over To Talk
Hands-free technology like a Bluetooth headset or integrated system can still take your mind off the road. Phone conversations may impair your ability to recognize and respond to something or someone on the road—even if you’re looking at it—because your attention is elsewhere.
The safest option for you, your passengers, pedestrians and those in other vehicles is to only use your phone when you’re not on the road.
Don’t Drive Drowsy
Consider the time of day you decide to drive. The NHTSA estimates 71,000 annual drowsy driving injuries. If you can avoid drowsy driving, a common safety issue late at night, you can improve the odds of arriving at your destination safely.
Take the Pledge To Drive Distraction Free
Download and print your certificate and commit to taking the safety measures necessary to avoid distractions while driving.
Apps or Products That Combat Distracted Driving
A buzz from your phone that a text, email or social network notification is fresh and waiting can be a big temptation. Some phones and apps help you avoid distracted driving from the start by blocking notifications or limiting phone features. These features can even be used to monitor driving of a family member, such as a new teen. Here are a few top options to get started:
- LifeSaver: This app uses your GPS to track when you’re in motion and when you arrive at your destination. It also blocks text messages and calls while you drive. It has an in-app rewards system that incentivizes safe driving. It also offers options for parents and fleet managers.
- DriveMode: This app gives you quick shortcuts to apps you may want to use when driving, like GPS and music, while blocking other distractions. It runs on voice enabled commands and allows you to interact with apps including Google Maps, Waze, Pandora, Spotify, and more.
- Built-in features: Modern Android and iPhone devices all have driving features built in. Check out driving modes in your phone settings and do not disturb modes as a way to block those calls and messages from showing up.
- Telematics: Telematics is a technology that is available via an app on your smartphone or a dongle that you plug in to your vehicle to monitor and provide real time feedback on your driving habits. The dongle and app both alert you to behaviors such as hard breaking, speeding, mileage and late night driving. The app also layers in distracted driving events. This feedback can help drivers become more aware of their driving habits and improve them over time. Some insurance companies offer discounts to drivers who use Telematics technology and demonstrate favorable driving behaviors.
Use care when accessing in-car systems while on the road. Some systems prevent use while moving. This is one of many technologies aimed to improve your safety on the road.
Is Distraction a Young Driver’s Problem?
Experienced drivers often believe that they can manage distractions while driving better than novice drivers. But driver distraction is present among drivers of all ages. Education on how to prevent distracted driving is imperative. While drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), distracted driving dangers transcend all ages.
Of distracted driving crashes, only 11% came from people under 20 years old, according to the NCSA study. Adults 45 and above were responsible for 34% of distracted driving wrecks. Don’t let the number of years you have behind the wheel lead you to believe that you’re immune to distraction while driving. Experience is no substitute for safe driving habits. It’s important though to talk to the young drivers in your life about the possible distractions on the road before they get their license.
Moving Forward As Better Drivers
The technology that helps contribute to a safer driving experience is always improving. Safer driving leads to fewer claims and lower auto insurance costs. That’s a big win for any driver. Auto manufacturers are making crash avoidance technologies, such as blind spot warning and collision avoidance systems, common in new vehicles. In fact, back-up cameras are required to be in all new lightweight vehicles.
Traffic engineers are employing roundabouts, red light cameras and road condition warnings to make driving safer. But regardless of emerging technology, policies and processes, there’s no replacement for focused, alert driving.
If you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, follow best practices to avoid a fender bender. And regardless of how long you’ve been driving, stay focused on safe practices like defensive driving and avoiding road rage.
Some of the biggest dangers we face on the road come from inside the cabin of our own vehicle. As all roads will have hazards, all commutes will have their share of distractions. Although these can’t always be avoided, at least the negative effects may be reduced through careful consideration and planning.
It’s the Law
Also keep in mind that distracted driving may be a criminal offense depending on the distracted driving laws in the state you live in. If a police officer catches a glimpse of you looking at your phone while on the road, they can often pull you over and issue a citation. That can lead to higher insurance premiums plus the cost of the ticket itself.
Share Your Story in the Comments
If you have any tips for avoiding distracted driving, please share them with readers to help keep us all safer while out on the road.
I see people holding their dogs on their laps while driving very often.
This should be a law and talked about.
It’s very dangerous for the driver, the dog and other cars on the road.
Such an obvious and huge distraction for the driver, and an accident just waiting to happen.
It makes me very upset to see this and should be a ticketed offense..but it needs to be brought to light and talked about so people will stop.
In the California driver’s handbook, the running of yellow lights is encouraged! Hard to see how that doesn’t create more fatal accidents.
A recycled article from 2017? Driving with your dog in your lap should be a class one offense. Put this article to rest.
Douglas – Thanks for reading. We appreciate your comment and wanted to let you know that we update our articles regularly so they are timely and relevant. We agree that you should never drive with a pet in your lap. To read more about how to travel safely with your pet, readers can check out our article on Keeping Your Pets Safe While Driving.
I personally think that all of this new technology adds to distraction by adding unnecessary complexity. Car manufactures should remove all of the feature creep from new vehicles ASAP! I drive a 1969 Malibu for these reasons…
Several years ago, my town incorporated RLCs. At that time the yellow lights were set for 3-4 seconds. Any one could be ticketed and they were. There was an enormous increase of tickets. More and more people complained and lawyers got involved. The town disconnected the cameras and increased the length of the yellow lights. There are less accidents because people aren’t trying to race through the RLC or stomping on their brakes only to find themselves in the middle of the intersections.
I am a senior and I think driving when it is not lunch hour and when people are getting off work is a smart thing to do. Make appointments at a different time if you can.
Hi Norma, this is great insight. Thanks for your comment!
Out of nine-I talk to passengers but they are all warned I may not be listening or answering as i need to pay attention to my driving. Eating only very early morning no traffic at all where i’m driving, sandwich with no chance of dripping or crumbling. The first talking probably won’t change, 2nd eating I Think I’ed better cut that out completely. When I think clearly about it no traffic it does not mean do dogs, deer or who knows what?
Thanks for sharing, Bonnie. Be safe out there!
I have been practicing all of the things you just said for yearsBut you are hundred percent correct on each thing you said
It’s great to hear that you are already practicing safe driving. Thank you for sharing; spread the word!
When behind the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon, which an automobile is in my opinion, it is your responsibility to keep all your faculties alert!
I have found that when I’m parking I automatically look for a “pull thru” spot so that I don’t have to back up! So much easier to see when one can just pull out of a space, and safer. It makes me crazy when I see people pass up that opportunity!! I learned that from my nephew who worked as a driver for UPS for several years.
It is cell phones and texting…period. The other named situations probably make up less than 1% of accidents.
40,800 people died on the roads last year: principal cause: texting. Meaning anything related to a phone: actual texting, social media, maps, games—National Highway commission says average person spends 4.6 seconds texting—not looking at the road for 4.6 sec; at 60 mph distance covered is 4.6 x 88 feet
So lets not sugarcoat this issue text in all its aspects is the number one threat and killer on the road?
Sorry Bob , but you are wrong. To avoid a ticket , just drive correctly and stop trying to blame it on the cameras. Our Police Force was understaffed for a while. People were taking advantage of that . Without cameras they didn’t bother with traffic lights and just zoomed right through the lights no matter what color they were. Many pedestrians lost their lives due to this. It’s sad but Humans cannot adapt to an honor system. They need to be monitored. It’s not predatory. It’s called “Safety”
When I was younger I was always on the go with my job. Not wanting to stop for lunch , I would sometimes grab a fast food lunch and try to eat while driving. Then I would have to have a cigarette. We didn’t have cell phones then or GPS . That was probably more dangerous for me because I was one of those people that was always running late, putting on make-up in the truck while having my morning coffee and trying to read a map. Brushing my hair, radio blasting, It’s a wonder that Im not dead. Did I mention that was a 5 speed transmission? I got away with it but karma caught up with me. Going home from work one Friday evening. Just got my check , all I was wanting to do was cash it get something to eat and relax in front of the TV. Traffic was moderate on the east bound freeway running through Dallas/ Fort Worth , the Sun was about to set and I was not driving towards it. however a flash of bright light suddenly hit me in the eyes. It was the kind that causes those lingering abalone color swirls around your face. Just as I re adjusted my vision, I saw a large object right in front of me that felt like a giant magnet. POW! My truck slammed right into the back of a Church Bus. The airbags deployed but I remember thinking the truck was on fire because of the smoke and smell . I had to get out. but I was in the middle of the Freeway. I wondered if I was I ok and would I be able to get out . I didn’t feel any pain anywhere. Just then I looked up and a man was standing at my door asking me the same thing. But why was he apologizing? I couldn’t understand what he was saying but he helped me out and walked me to the side of the road. I could hear a siren and a Policeman was there rather quickly.. As he walked up to me he was asking what happened and was I driving to close to the Bus. I said “No Sir, I was actually quite a ways back” Just then ,he put his hand over his eyes and say “Wow that is bright!”
I suddenly remembered “That’s’ exactly what happened to me!” I said
The Bus was one of those travel type Vans that had double doors on the back with a large Magnifying window on one side. I never knew what the purpose of that was but that was what caught the sunlight and reflected it back in my face at the exact moment there was an 18 wheeler in front of the Bus that hit his breaks to avoid a car that veered in front of him without bothering to signal or check their mirror first looking . This caused the Bus Driver to hit his breaks just as I was blinded.. I was un aware of any of that taking place until I heard The Bus Driver explaining it to the Officer. I looked over at my truck and I was demolished. The entire front looked like a scrap heap but I didn’t have a scratch on me. In the old days, I would have died from a collision like that in my old truck. You see , I has just bought that new truck one month earlier. With all the modern safety features.
I said a silent prayer and promised myself that those crazy days were over. I stopped smoking, It’s too messy to eat while driving, Google does my navigating and all my family and friends know that if I don’t answer my phone, I’m driving.
Thank you for sharing this story, Norma. It can help others stop some of their habits while driving as well.
The electronic controls that come with many newer vehicles REQUIRE that you look at them to make any adjustments. NOTHING, not even cell phones, have ever been as great a distraction problem for me as these are. This became even more obvious to me when my car was in the shop and I had a rental with the older style manual controls. I wasn’t even familiar with the vehicle but immediately found it significantly less distracting.
Sidney, I have turned off quite a few of these features in my 2020 car for the very reason you mentioned. I also find the small size of print in the car displays extremely dangerous.
An angry spouse or significant other is probably the most dangerous distraction. I wonder how many drivers have been driven over the edge by somebody who just won’t shut up?
Pets are a distraction, but investing in a car seat puts them in a comfortable position so they can see through the window while lying/sitting down and they get used to it and actually like it better than sitting in the front seat or on your lap.
Hi Sharyn, thanks for sharing a great solution to a distraction.
We take turns driving and the other does the distracting things in the car. When I or my husband is driving alone, we pull over if needed for emergency phone calls etc. Both hands on the wheel.
Passengers, please limit conversation, especially when your driver needs concentration, as in needing to read signs or making (especially left) turns.
I am retired and don’t drive much! My car always is parked inside in my garage! I am looking to reduce my car insurance that I have. I don’t have any car accidents or tickets for a long time! I think it’s ridiculous for an old lady to pay lots of money for my car insurance! I did ask for auto safety classes but they never called me back because I am deaf and ask for ASL interpreter!! I feel that no one helps me to reduce the premium on my car insurance. I am an AARP member.
Hi Susan. You can sign up for an AARP Driver Safety course online here: https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/.
most all this stuff is a no brainier, it’s nice keep sending out the info hopefully people will use this in their driving to improve their habits.
Thanks for the helpful info. Lifesaver & DriveMode sound like really good apps for some drivers who don’t have the will power to ignore cell phones! I have 2 more items to address though. I will be difficult for some drivers to give up driving. I have a dear friend who I will not get into the car with unless I drive her car. She doesn’t even like driving so it is easy to take over. I do worry when I am not with her as she is about 4’5″ tall if that and I don’t even think she can see the road with her pillow under her. I have talked to her sons that maybe it is time to take the car away but they won’t do that. I have told my own sons that if they see me driving unsafe to let me know if I need to stop driving. I am a retired deputy sheriff and one of my sons is an active deputy sheriff so I know he would let know. The other thing is put your animals in a dog seat that secures with a seatbelt so they don’t go flying around in your car in you have to stop too fast or involved in a wreck. Last week there was a wreck just across the street and in the confusion the drivers dog ran from the car after the wreck. He was devastated! It took several people almost a week to locate the dog as he had ran so far from the wreck. Secure your babies! P.S. The dog was ok just hungry & dirty.
Thanks for sharing this story Martha, it will be helpful for others when they evaluate whether it is time to stop driving.
Thanks Hartford for the great reminders and suggestions. They are helping to make me and others better drivers.
Thanks for reading and sharing, John!
Thanks 4 such valuable info. It’s important to be reminded, since driving any kind of vessel, is a daily routine, for most of us. We need to be alert, & vigilant at all times. It’s a life saving situation. Again, thanks.
It helps to follow the three second rule, being three seconds behind the car ahead of you.
This will give you time to react should something happen.
Very few people use the three second rule today.
Also, be in the correct lane for off ramps. I see too many cars crossing two or more lanes to an off ramp.
Andy- thanks for providing these tips! They will be very helpful for all drivers.
I used to use the two-second rule, which saved me from nasty accidents more than once! I now use the three-second rule and have employed it in my car’s technology, so it slows me, if I accidentally shorten the space.
I am a retired school bus driver of 35 years! I have taken all the courses I can and still do. They help me to keep updated to the new road round about in our area. Nothing can help the inconsiterate people who are so rude. I have always tried to not drive if I don’t feel well so I would like to add, being sick is a good reason for not driving just to get out of your house! Your yard is a much safer spot for you and others! I agree with all the things others have said. Thanks for the tips, keep them coming, I am not getting any younger!
Hi Bonnie- great tip! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks. A very helpful topic and one that will benefit all drivers.
Before taking the AARP driving course, I had a problem with drowsy driving. Now I constantly keep my eyes moving. As I scan across the road I glance at my rear view mirror to keep track of the vehicles approaching from behind me. When looking to the right, I try to locate the next mile post (when on an interstate highway) and make a note of one when I can read it so I know where I am in case I need assistance. As I scan to the left I will watch any vehicle trying to pass me being ready to react if one drifts towards me. In short, keeping track of what’s behind me, what’s ahead of me and where I am prevents me from getting sleepy.
Cliff- we are glad you liked the driving course and found how beneficial it is. Thank you for reading!
Hard breaking would involve spinning on your back without the luxury of cardboard. You want hard braking.
Thank You for the information very Helpful to me and my family members.
If you don’t have one already, consider purchasing a speaking GPS paired with a backup camera. That way, you won’t get nervous (jeopardizing your driving safety) as you get close to an unfamiliar destination. Let your GPS do the dirty work of recalculating and redirecting you if you accidentally drive past your unfamiliar destination. That way, you remain calm, and hence, more alert.
Although it’s always good judgment to use your mirrors, a backup camera (paired to your GPS) can make you much more cognizant (and consequently, much less nervous) about whom (or what) is behind you while backing up (especially in a crowded parking lot at a large shopping mall where your mirrors don’t help too much). Therefore, you remain calmer and reduce the chance of hitting a person, vehicle, or other items as you back up.
Great advice, Gary. Thank you for your feedback!
Thanx. I teach an AARP Safe Driving class and must offer some additional distractions to safe driving – i.e. effects of medicine and alcohol, droziness, weather conditions, anger[the fight you had before hitting the road] or anything that takes your attention away from the multi-tasking of safe driving. WATCH OUT FOR THE OTHER DRIVERS, TOO!
Thanks for sharing these additional tips, Jerry! To view more information on signing up for an AARP Safe Driving class, click here.
Great information everyone should read. I cannot believe today’s drivers–inconsiderate, inattentive (usually on phone) total disregard for speed limits and rudeness. All of us need to be considerate of others on the road, we aren’t the only drivers out there!.
I NEVER use my cell phone while driving. If I need directions or need to inform someone that I’ll be late, I pull over, park, and then call. My cell phone is turned off and in my purse if my car is moving. I rarely have more than one other person in the car with me, but when I do, I let them entertain each other. I don’t depend on lots of modern technology for my driving (GPS, Siri, Navistar). My only fault was eating – which, after one or two ketchup or mayo-laden chunks of lettuce dropping onto my lap, was cured by (once again) pulling over, parking, and eating without mishap. Of course, I’m older, so I don’t have the same distractions that someone younger might have.
Great insight, Joesphine! Thank you for sharing.
Pet lovers who still drive with pets between themselves and the steering wheel.
Yes, so very dangerous, and it infuriates me!!
I’ve written about this, but to no avail, it seems.
These are good reminders as we head north from Florida for the summer. My husband won’t even listen to books on tape as he thinks that they are a distraction. Several months ago we purchased a new Toyota Highlander just because of all of the new safety features.
Thanks for reading, Bonnie! Have a safe trip.
Thank you for the specific advise. You teach me, and I teach others.
Thanks for the reminders that we should follow every day.
We were traveling to Dallas and my spouse always tell how to drive saying: take that street, oh you are getting out the highway! I took the left line with out even thinking and one car rubbed on my left mirror. Thank God that’s only happened once. I have been driving since 1977 and in my opinion you should leave driver alone.
Thank you Issac for sharing your experience. It is important to not distract the driver while driving.
Excellent review thanks
I fully agree with all your points and safety tips about responsible and undistracted driving. I often apologize to my passengers (I have very few), saying: “sorry, but I cannot look at you because I need to be fully aware about everything that is going on in front of me”. They understand that, and, hearing this from me, they often even cut their questions and/or comment short!
Thank you very much!
Thank you for reading, Thomas!
Driving is a full time job. I even leave the radio OFF most of the time. In order for me to turn it on, I have to be on a free flowing roadway. We run video systems in our cars. Reviewing those videos at times can find bad habits. That makes it possible to correct them. We also point out problems to each other when we see an issue in the other persons driving. As for RLC’s, I somewhat disagree with the Bob’s comment on them. They do improve things. If you do not want to be taxed, then stop behind the white line! If you pass that white line in the left lane and I hit you while making a left turn from your right. Guess what, I have proof you were in the intersection which makes you at fault! On another note, I agree that some lights have too short signals. That video system we have, has a clock. That video can be replayed proving the light is too short if I notice the flash. That is when I call it a money making RLC and it has to go! There does need to be a traffic court for these camera systems. Bottom line, I see things slowly getting better. But one observation is that the smarter the cars get, it seems the drivers get even dumber. Do not count on technology to replace common sense. It is an added feature to the car that has the best safety device: a good driver with good attention and reflexes! Many a time, my attentiveness has bailed me out from someone else’s stupid/careless mistakes. The ones I can not escape is when they block me in with no place to avoid. Knock on wood, no speeding cameras or RLC’s have hit me either. Maybe I behave plenty. “Only the camera knows.”
Thanks for sharing your driving experience! This can be heplful to those that read the article.
Thank you for continuing to keep us safe while driving.
I agree with all info on distracted driving . Some times I feel as though I am the only
one that see these things as dangerous. Almost all my relatives drive with one of these distractions until I make a big deal about it -even the blue tooth ! Almost everyone argues with me about talking on the cell phone & changing music stations . I think my granddaughter is the only one that agrees with me & she hates to drive .
I find a big distraction is using a small screen I-Phone as your GPS!
This should not promote red-light cameras or any other type for for-profit ticket camera, which relies upon poor traffic engineering and predatory ticketing. RLC’s led to more crashes in many places.
With red-light cameras, cities should immediately discontinue their usage. In many areas, when the light is too short, people are cited a split-second after it changes, for stopping over the stop line, or a non-complete stop for a right-on-red turn. Who can defend this setup? The short yellows alone are a major problem, which yield most of the “violations.” Federal data also shows that non-complete stops for right turns almost never cause a crash, yet are the bulk of the tickets.
All you need are speed limits set to the 85th percentile free-flowing traffic speed, longer yellows, decent length all-red intervals, and sensors to keep an all-red if someone enters late. No crashes! Can also sync lights and use sensors to change them and know where cars are.
Check out the National Motorists Association.
Thank you for this useful information, Bob.
the only thing I have in the Nissan is a linking unit between my car and cell phone. It turns on when a call comes in on the cell phone without any action on my part (ie turning on a switch, switching between in and out conversations etc.) therefore not requiring the need to take my eyes off the road. It would be no more distracting than having a passenger in the car with me. I fail to see how this increases the rate of my insurance to the extent that it has this year.
Thank you for valuable information.
thanks alot of information