Distracted Driving: It’s Not Just Your Cellphone

Michael Kelly

Distracted driving has been a matter of concern ever since the first cars 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 unsuccessfully 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. But cell phones are only one of the many contributors to distracted driving. In fact, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that talking on a cell phone is only the second most time-consuming distraction for drivers.

The study examined how using a cellphone while driving affected near-crash and crash risk, as well as what other distracting behaviors drivers engage in. The researchers found that although drivers spend around 7 percent of their time behind the wheel talking on a cellphone, the most time-consuming distraction for drivers was interacting with a passenger, which took up 12 percent of drivers’ time behind the wheel.

Here are the nine most common distractions for drivers as reported by the IIHS:

Senior couple enjoying a road trip in a convertible. Man talking on the phone while driving his car Mature woman and her dog together behind steering wheel Woman enjoying driving her convertible car Person looking at cell phone while driving Man smoking while driving Changing radio settings while driving Man eating burger while driving Woman looking at map app on cell phone while driving

What Can You Do to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Some of these distractions can be difficult to avoid. After all, it’s not like someone is going to go on a four-hour road trip and not talk to their passengers because they could be a distraction. Instead, in situations such as this, it’s helpful to find ways to mitigate the impact of distractions.

  • Eat first. One of the safest (and most affordable) 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 all be made safer if you perform these activities while parked.
  • Let passengers help. Passengers can be distracting, which is one of the reasons why most states have passed graduated driver licensing laws that restrict teens from having passengers in the car during their first year of driving. However, letting your passengers help with tasks that could distract you —like answering the phone or adjusting the radio —can help you remain more focused on driving.
  • Avoid conflict. When driving, it’s helpful to avoid emotionally charged conversations with your passenger so you can keep your attention on the road.
  • Use steering wheel controls. Adjusting the AC or the radio can also pose a huge risk because it involves taking both eyes off the road and one hand off the wheel. Many auto manufacturers now add radio, climate and other controls to steering wheels as a less distracting option.
  • 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. Finally, if you must make or take a call, it’s best to pull to the side of the road first, even if your state doesn’t prohibit cell phone use while driving. Note that even hands-free technology, whether through a headset or the vehicle’s Bluetooth system, can still 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 directed 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.

Is Distraction Just 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. This might explain why drivers over the age of 21 are only slightly less likely to use mobile devices while driving compared to drivers under the age of 21, according to the IIHS-VTTI research.

Likewise, a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 72 percent of adults between 40-59 admitted to using their phone while driving—the same percentage of adults between 19-24 that reported doing so.

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.

Moving Forward as Better Drivers

The technology that helps contribute to a safer driving experience is always improving.

Auto manufacturers are making crash avoidance technologies, such as blind spot warning and collision avoidance systems, increasingly common in new vehicles. In fact, back-up cameras are required to be in all new lightweight vehicles by May 2018.

Additionally, 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 is no replacement for focused, alert driving.

“To effectively tackle the problem of distracted driving, we need a broader approach that takes into account the many and varied sources of driver distraction,” says IIHS president Adrian Lund. “Singling out cellphones may lead drivers to disregard the fact that other behaviors that divert their attention from the road are risky, too.”

Some of the biggest dangers we face on the road come from inside the cabin of our own vehicle. Just 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.

Need a refresher on the rules of the road where you’re driving? Click the image below to go to our state of driving page. Then select a state to learn more about its car culture, average gas price, insurance requirements, distracted driving laws, and more.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Drowsy Driving

2 Responses to "Distracted Driving: It’s Not Just Your Cellphone"

  • Eric Lang | December 22, 2017 at 6:59 am

    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.

  • John Rigali | November 1, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you for valuable information.

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