Driven to distraction

When we get behind the wheel of a car, we should definitely be driving—not perusing our iTunes library or taking a selfie… and certainly not texting or Googling anything. But it’s so tempting… because most of us have such a close, constantly interactive relationship with our phones, and phones can do so much now!

And there are a lot of places where the lines are blurry around whether they’re okay to do while we’re driving. Like navigation—we all do that. How many of us can get anywhere anymore without Google Maps, or Waze? 

But it’s not just our phones that could lure us into catastrophe. There are even a lot of things built right into our cars can take valuable attention away from the road. Like touchscreen climate control systems that rival the complexity of a stealth bomber cockpit. And the steadfast unpredictability of bluetooth. And Heaven help us if it’s a new car, and we’re still learning how to use everything. Then there’s thinking. Thinking can carry us miles away from the moment, in all sorts of ways.

Some of these distracting things are illegal, and some of them aren’t. Or at least that’s how we think of them. But actually, distracted driving (and violations of law) can be almost anything—and the dangers and consequences can be just as serious for things that aren’t expressly against the law, as for those that are.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of distraction that get drivers into trouble on the road:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving

Texting is, of course, one of the most dangerous of all non-driving activities when you’re in the car—it’s a perfect storm of distraction, because it combines all three types. And even if you’re just reading a text message, you’re likely to take your eyes off the road for about five seconds. If you’re driving 55, you’ll cover the length of a football field in five seconds, so a lot can happen. So it’s best to take a page out of AT&T’s playbook and remember: It can wait.

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But guess what? Even if you’re not texting, or searching Yelp for a lunch stop… your phone is still pretty dangerous. Because if you take away texting, emailing, and web surfing, it’s… a phone. That’s right. It’s old school, but it can actually be used to talk to someone who is someplace else. A lot of us tend to think this is safe, because we can do it hands free. And in a lot of states, it is perfectly legal to talk on the phone while driving, as long as you’re doing it with a headset or over your car’s stereo system via bluetooth. But it’s still a dangerous distraction. 

Sometimes just being aware of the potential distractions can help us avoid them. But another possible deterrent to remember is the price you’ll pay if you get caught. Or far worse, the unimaginable—causing an accident that hurts or kills other people.


Here are some of the stats on the dangers of distracted driving:

Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause a crash than driving drunk. And a driver who’s texting is about the equivalent of one who’s had 4 beers in one hour. It’s a factor in 1.6 million crashes each year, which includes 500,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths.

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More and more cities and counties are adding mobile device-specific enhancements to their laws. In a lot of places now, if you get into an accident and it can be proven that you were texting or otherwise using your phone—and many agencies now have technology to check—you can face reckless driving charges as well.

Most of us want to be safe, and want to do the right thing. We’ve all gotten pretty good at designating a driver, and not letting friends drive drunk. Now we need to remember that distraction isn’t worth the risk, and focus 100% of our attention on the road every time we’re in the driver’s seat.

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