Driving a car is a complicated action. You are simultaneously controlling the vehicle – speeding up, slowing down, correcting direction, etc. – while you are watching out for traffic and road conditions. The room for error is small, especially at higher rates of speed. When an error does occur the results can be catastrophic. So, why does everyone take driving for granted?
The answer is complacency. We all drive every day and we usually follow routes that we have taken dozens or hundreds of times before. Like any other action that is performed on a regular basis, driving becomes routine. Because nothing unexpected usually happens while we are driving, we assume that nothing unexpected will ever happen while we are driving. As a result, we drive with a false sense of security. In other words, everything is all right until it isn’t all right.
Because we take driving for granted, it becomes very easy for us to get distracted while driving. A driver who isn’t paying attention to their vehicle and the road is much more likely to be involved in a car accident that will result in property damage, injury and even death. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the more common driving distractions in ascending order of probable occurrence. If you’re aware of the types of things that can distract you, you’re more likely not to engage in that particular behavior while driving and so avoid the potential danger involved.
We all know that smoking is bad for your health, but what’s not as widely known is that smoking is a major source of driver distraction. About one in one hundred car accidents are caused by smoking. Specifically, lighting a cigarette or reaching for an ashtray can cause a driver to momentarily take their attention off the road. That momentary lapse in attention is sometimes all it takes to cause a serious accident with the potential to change lives forever.
Interestingly, a moving object inside a vehicle causes about as many distracted driving accidents as smoking. The vast majority of moving object accidents are the result of two things – insects and pets, specifically dogs. Drivers trying to swat at an insect inside the car are not paying attention to road. Neither are drivers trying to control an unruly animal. In both cases, the better course of action is to pull over to deal with the situation as opposed to continuing to drive while distracted.
Ironically, sometimes using a vehicle’s controls can be enough of a distraction to cause an accident. One of the most common examples of this is adjusting rear view or side view mirrors while continuing to drive. Adjusting a seat is another example, as is dealing with a navigational device. All adjustments to a vehicle’s controls should be done while the vehicle is not moving, preferably at the start of a trip and before putting the vehicle into drive.
Similar to using vehicle controls, using a vehicle device causes a significant amount of distracted driving accidents. Adjusting the sound vehicle sound system takes a driver’s attention off the road. So does dealing with the climate controls. The risk is greater at night, when the controls for the vehicle’s devices are not as visible. Risk also increases when operating an unfamiliar vehicle. Taking your eyes off of the road to search for the right button or dial can be a potentially deadly mistake.
Not surprisingly, eating or drinking while driving causes about 2% of all distracted driving accidents. All vehicles come with cupholders as a way of dealing with the distraction caused by trying to find a stable surface. However, even when using cupholders, reaching for a beverage while driving can be enough of a distraction to cause an accident. Eating while driving is even worse. Cars were not designed for eating. Food invariably drops into a driver’s lap and looking down to try and brush the food away and see that it doesn’t cause a stain is a major distraction.
Reaching for anything while driving can be a fatal mistake. This is especially true when the object is out of the driver’s reach or in the back seat. Again, the best practice is to pull the car over and come to a complete stop before searching for something in the car.
We probably all drive with passengers as often as we drive alone. The thing is, while we don’t consider those passengers to be potential distractions, they are. Turning to look at a passenger while driving pulls a driver’s attention from the road. So does looking in the rear view mirror at a passenger in the back seat. That momentary lapse of attention is often all it takes to cause an accident.
Rubbernecking or staring at objects or events occurring outside of the car causes nearly 7% of all distracted driving accidents. It is a human tendency to be curious about what’s happening around us. However, looking away from the road to watch something else is always a mistake.
If you use your phone while you’re driving you greatly increases the odds that you will be distracted enough to be involved in a collision. In fact, phone use while driving accounts 12% of all distracted driving accidents. A driver who is repeatedly looking down at their phone is a driver who is repeatedly not aware of what is happening around them in traffic.
Surprisingly, phone use is not the number one cause of distracted driving accidents. That honor goes to simple daydreaming. 62% of all distracted drivers are simply lost in thought. Their eyes are on the road, but they are not aware of what they are seeing. This phenomenon is caused by the routine nature of driving. We drive so often that we don’t have to consciously think about it. However, when we are mentally on autopilot we are unable to react quickly to changing road conditions and an accident is often the result.