How to avoid distracted driving and stay safe

The CDC estimates that 18 percent of all car accidents involve a distracted driver. That's 424,000 people injured in crashes because a driver was distracted. States have banned cell phone use while driving to prevent this dangerous behavior but distracted driving is more than just texting while driving.

Distracted driving can involve any type of behavior that takes a driver's eyes or focus off the road. What can you do to prevent distracted driving? Learn more about the different types of distracted driving and what you can do behind the wheel to avoid dangerous situations.

The three categories of distractions are visual, manual and cognitive. Each type of distraction is dangerous on its own and increases the risk of an accident. Below is an explanation of each type of distraction and what you can do to stay safe while driving.

Visual distractions

Visual distractions cause you to divert your eyes from the road. Some visual distractions may seem innocent or even relevant to the act of driving: looking at or adjusting a GPS screen, changing the volume or radio station, or adjusting the vehicle's temperature controls. Other visual distractions include turning to look at your children in the backseat, applying makeup, and reading a text, map or a book/newspaper.

How to prevent visual distractions:

  • Adjust your GPS before you start to drive.
  • If possible, have your passenger act as "navigator" and be responsible for adjusting temperature, volume, and radio controls.
  • Pull over to read text messages or maps.

Manual distractions

Manual distractions cause you to remove one (or both) hand from the steering wheel. These distractions include eating, smoking, handing food to your child, adjusting a seatbelt or child restraint, and searching for a dropped item.

How to prevent manual distractions:

  • Eat before you start to drive.
  • If a safety belt needs to be adjusted, first pull over before attempting to fix the restraint.
  • Adjust all mirrors, temperature controls, radio station settings before driving.

Cognitive distractions

Cognitive distractions affect your mind and your ability to focus on the task of driving. Driving intoxicated or under the influence of drugs is the most discussed cognitive distraction. Other cognitive distractions include talking on the phone (even hands free), road rage, being tired or sleepy, and being in an emotionally unstable state.

How to prevent cognitive distractions:

  • Never under any circumstance should you drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Set up a designated driver ahead of time. If you know a friend is not in a mental capacity to drive, call a friend, a family member, or a cab.
  • Sleepy or drowsy-driving falls under this category. Take a nap or call a friend.
  • Keep your phone in "Do Not Disturb" mode.

A good offense is the best way to defend yourself against distractions while driving. Try to plan ahead to avoid distracted situations. If you need to pull over, find a safe spot to do so. Arriving late is always better than the alternative.

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