For those of us who drive on a regular basis, it’s all too easy to slip into autopilot mode. But even a small lapse in concentration can lead to tragedy. Distracted driving can be just as dangerous–if not more so–than getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
What causes distracted driving? Here are some of the most common culprits–and how to avoid them.
Texting is one of the most dangerous things you can do while driving. When your attention is on your phone, it’s not on the road. Even checking texts at an intersection can lead to an accident. As many as 25% of all car crashes involve a cell phone.
Think talking on the phone is safer than texting? While hands-free audio is a better choice than other forms of communication, it’s still risky. It’s a good idea to put your conversation on hold if you’re driving through heavier traffic or inclement weather.
If the person you’re talking to is a passenger in the car, it’s harder to avoid the distraction. Set boundaries and be firm about needing to pay attention to the road. Don’t look at anything they want to show you on their phone; in fact, try not to turn to look at them at all. Postpone any serious or animated conversations until later.
Always set your GPS, whether it’s on your phone or built into your car, before you start driving. If you need to pull up directions while en route, pull over into a parking lot. Turn up the volume instead of relying on visual directions. And always look at the road before following the GPS’s instructions; there may be vehicles, pedestrians, debris, or road construction in your path.
Adjusting Stereo or Thermostat
Glancing down to change the temperature inside the car only takes a second–but that’s how long it takes to get into an accident, too. The car stereo is arguably even more distracting, especially newer cars that have a screen displaying information and images. Wait to adjust these settings until the car is stopped.
It’s something of a cliché to see someone applying lipstick or even mascara while driving. However, some people still try to get away with doing some grooming on their morning commute or on the way to dinner. This is a bad idea for many reasons–not the least of which is that you have to take your hands off the wheel.
Eating and Drinking
We’ve all picked up fast food or coffee to enjoy on the road. Cars come equipped with multiple cup holders, and it would be a shame not to use them, right? Eating or drinking while driving is just as dangerous as applying makeup or texting. Your hands are off the wheel and your attention is on something other than the road.
If you hit a bump and spill something, your instinct will be to focus on that, making it even more likely that you’ll get into an accident. Pull over and take care of the spill. And next time, wait until you get to your destination to have a snack.