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Types of Distracted Driving

Posted in Distracted driving on May 31, 2023

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous types of driver errors. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,522 people lost their lives in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2021. Many different things can distract a motor vehicle driver enough to cause a car accident. Driver distractions fall into three main categories.

Visual Distraction

A visual distraction can refer to anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road. If a driver is looking at something other than the roadway in front of the car, it is considered a visual distraction. These distractions are dangerous because they reduce a driver’s reaction time to hazards, such as a vehicle that has suddenly stopped. This can lead to a crash, including a rear-end collision. Common examples of visual distractions are:

  • Reading a text message or email
  • Watching a video
  • Looking over at a passenger
  • Looking at photographs
  • Looking at a map or GPS
  • Reading a book or newspaper
  • Reading a billboard
  • Rubbernecking a car accident

If a driver isn’t looking at the road, he or she may not be able to react to changing roadway situations in time to prevent a crash. The most dangerous type of visual distraction is texting while driving. According to the NHTSA, a driver looking down at a text message for just 5 seconds while traveling at 55 miles per hour is the equivalent of driving across a football field blindfolded. Young drivers are the most likely to text and drive.

Manual Distraction

The second type of driver distraction is manual. It refers to anything that takes one or both of the driver’s hands off the wheel. A safe and prudent driver keeps both hands on the steering wheel at all times. Failing to do so can make it more difficult for a driver to maneuver safely away from a crash risk, such as a pedestrian that darts into the road. Examples of manual distractions include:

  • Reaching for something on the floorboard
  • Digging through a bag or purse
  • Typing a text message
  • Taking a selfie
  • Holding food or a beverage
  • Smoking a cigarette
  • Personal grooming
  • Fiddling with the GPS or radio
  • Adjusting the temperature
  • Holding a pet

Taking one or both hands off the wheel could lead to a loss of vehicle control, such as the car drifting into another lane. Drivers should not attempt to do anything except drive when behind the wheel. If they must use a cell phone, they should use a hands-free device.

Cognitive Distraction

The third type of driver distraction is the most dangerous: cognitive distraction. This refers to the driver thinking about something other than the driving task. Safely operating a motor vehicle requires 100 percent of a driver’s mental focus. Examples of dangerous cognitive distractions include:

  • Talking to passengers
  • Talking on the phone
  • Listening to a podcast or audiobook
  • Daydreaming
  • Thinking about work or school