The Definitive Guide to Distracted Driving

In case you need the definition of distracted driving, know that it’s a silent killer—it’s anything that stands to divert your attention from what’s at hand, namely the wheel to your car. There is no such thing as a safe distraction from driving, since anything on the list below puts the driver, their passengers, and all innocent bystanders at risk. The most common distractions from driving are:

  • Any use of a mobile phone or smart phone, including, but not limited to: texting, calling, browsing the web, etc.;
  • Drinking and eating at the wheel;
  • Talking to the other people in the car;
  • Personal grooming, like putting on makeup or brushing your hair at the wheel;
  • Any use of non-essential technology, like using the GPS system, watching videos, fiddling with the controls on the radio/MP3 player/CD player, etc.

Some distractions are more problematic than others, because they require your attention, eyesight, and motor skills. Perhaps the most widespread and dangerous distraction from driving is texting at the wheel.

Key statistics on distracted driving

Deaths & injuries

  • The Fed says distracted driving causes some 16% of all fatal car crashes that occur each year. That’s an average of 5,000 distraction-related deaths per annum.
  • 3,154 people were killed in 2013, due to accidents that involved distracted driving. That’s 6.7 percent fewer fatalities than in 2012.
  • On the other hand, 424,000 people were injured in similar scenarios—that’s more than the 421,000 injuries recorded the previous year.

Young drivers

  • The largest age group affected by fatal accidents, which involved distracted driving, is that of drivers under 20. 10% of all such accidents produced by this age group were reportedly distracted, when the crash occurred.
  • The NHTSA says that 27% of all drivers that cause fatal accidents by driving distracted are under the age of 20.
  • Aside from using electronic devices, 12.2% of the newly licensed teen drivers polled by the AAA hold loud conversations in the car, and 6.3% engage in horseplay.
  • Some 25% of teens will text back every time they drive. 20% of teenagers and 10% of their parents will have extended text message conversations while driving.
  • The AAA has similar statistics: teen drivers are distracted by some form of online/digital activity 1 time out of 4 when they get behind the wheel. Check out the video below for the AAA’s in-car study.

Texting & using other devices

  • According to the CTIA, 153.3 billion text messages get sent in the US every month (including Puerto Rico, Territories, and Guam).
  • NOPUS data says that at any daylight second in America, roughly 660,000 car drivers will be using their phones, or other digital devices while driving. This number has stayed more or less the same since 2010.
  • The VTTI says you’re 3 (three) times more likely to have a car accident if you use your phone or other mobile gadgets while behind the wheel. This includes such simple gestures as reaching for the phone, dialing, and texting.
  • The data says using hands-free devices isn’t any safer than using a handheld phone, according to the VTTI.
  • It takes an average of 5 (five) seconds with your eyes on the phone to text. If you were driving with a blindfold on at 55 mph, it would only take you as long to go the whole length of a football field.
  • According to the AAA, some 33% of their poll respondents use cell phones while driving and 40% read or write when behind the wheel.
  • The AAA in-car study says electronic device usage, for texting, sending emails, or downloads, will account for 7% of the distractions their research identified.

General safety

  • According to the AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index, over 80% of drivers believe distracted driving is a serious problem, which makes them feel unsafe on the road.
  • The same poll cites almost 50% of respondents in saying that distracted driving is making them feel less safe on public roads now than they were 5 years ago.
  • Over 50% of the time a driver spends behind the wheel is dedicated to other activities than actually driving.
  • An interesting AAA poll on driver distraction found that most of the reasons behind distracted behaviors are neither new, nor technological. When children were present in the car, adult drivers are 4 times more likely to be distracted and when infants are there, the rate of likely distracted behavior goes up to 8 times.

Distracted driving guidance for specific groups

For teens

PSAs

Check out the powerful videos below, created as PSAs by the US government against distracted teen driving:

There are loads more impressive videos like this one on the Distraction.gov YouTube channel.

Spreading the word

Hopefully, none of your friends or family will ever have to go through the traumatizing experience of a distracted driving car accident. You can prevent such incidents by helping spread the word. Here are a few things that you can do at school and with your friends:

  • Download this pledge form against distracted driving, print it, and fill it in. You can also encourage others to sign on by talking about it, emailing them the .doc, or sending them the link.
  • You can hold a school presentation, or encourage the faculty at your school to do the same. Here’s a sample presentation you can actually use—or which can at least serve you as inspiration for one made by you!
  • Flyers never Sure, some might end up in the trashcan, but those precious few who end up in the hands of those who need to get educated stand to do a world of good. Try printing these ones out, to see what reaction you generate in school.
  • Like posters? Of course you do, who doesn’t? You can print this out and put it up at school, at home, or wherever else you think a show of support is needed: 1, 2, 3.
  • Finally, if you’re serious about fighting this good fight, you can also start a SADD chapter (Students Against Destructive Decisions), right at your school.

Social media

  • Show off your interest in combatting distracted driving by using any one of these cool downloadable pictures as your Facebook or Twitter pic: 1, 2, 3.
  • Alternatively, you can harness the power of hashtags and visuals, to make a stand on social media: #crashed, #totaled, #smashed, #wrecked, Park the Phone.
  • Gifs are cool, funny, and totally in. Other than getting you some laughs, shares, and likes, they can also help drive the point home: You can’t focus on two things at once (1, 2, 3).

For parents

You, too, can pledge, share, download, and host events. But, as a parent, you are also responsible for making sure your teen son and/or daughter is aware of all the local laws on driving. For instance, did you know that some states have banned all cell phone usage for young drivers (including texting)? Such laws, called Graduated Driver Licensing (or GDL) laws come with serious consequences, including driver license delays or suspensions. Worried that your teen is not going to take your efforts seriously? Download this parent-child contract, have them read it and sign it. Think this is a bit much? Then read up on how prevalent distracted driving is and how dire its effects. Make sure you set a good example, first and foremost. Whenever you drive, put your phone away in your glove compartment. And, to really drive the point home, watch this heartbreaking Faces of Distracted Driving PSA below.

If you’re also an active member of your local community, you might consider running an awareness campaign around the neighborhood, to educate others on how distracted driving affects all our lives. For tips and tricks on where to get started, check out this starter kit for reaching out to the media and getting as many community members involved as you can. The local press is going to be of huge aid to you, so you might also think about writing an op-ed for the local newspaper—check out this free sample from Distraction.gov. Finally, you can use the afore-mentioned pledge to run community pledge drives in your area, and get as many parents, young drivers, educators, and business owners to sign on to your campaign.

For educators

So, what can you as a teacher do? All of the above:

  • Watch the PSAs and show them in class;
  • Hold events and presentations;
  • Talk to your students about distracted driving: make sure they’re aware of the facts and know all the driving laws in their state;
  • Encourage them to organize local SADD chapters;
  • If you have a radio announcement system at school, check out these sample announcements that talk about the perils of distracted driving;
  • Finally, print out this official letter from the school to the parents, in order to make sure that both types of authority figures in the kids’ lives are on the same page.

For companies

Employers can also help drive down the horrible effects of distracted driving; first and foremost, by educating their employees, be they teens, young adults, or older, on the current laws and statistics. If you don’t know exactly where to start, check out this 2013 toolkit from the DSWW (Drive Safely Work Week). It’s free and fully downloadable and it will give you a couple of pointers on how to raise awareness.

Aside from encouraging your staff to read up and get a clear picture of the stats and regulations, you can also ensure that company policies are aligned with the goal of eliminating distractions at the wheel. This sample policy will help you work out a formula that addresses your company’s needs, employee numbers, and other specifics.

Finally, you can talk about taking the above-mentioned pledge with your staff. More often than not, distractions only get more intense as the workday draws to an end. You want your employees to pay attention at the wheel when they’re on the job, but you also want them to stay mindful the rest of the time.

The 17 most common sensical tips to avoid distracted driving

  1. Focus on driving and nothing else. Keep those peepers closely on the road, make full use of your mirrors, and keep an eye out on those more vulnerable than you, i.e. cyclists and pedestrians.
  2. Don’t let anything else take your attention from driving. If something is weighing heavily on your mind and diminishing your ability to focus, try to solve it before or after the trip, but never during.
  3. Pack every tightly and safely. Use luggage, boxes, bags, the glove compartment, or whatever else you might want to use. The point is to avoid having loose items roll around on your seats, lest you be tempted to reach out and grab them.
  4. Leave the house feeling that you look just as good as you will for the rest of the day. Brush your hair and teeth, apply and adjust make-up—do all this before you get behind the wheel.
  5. Eat, snack, and drink before the trip. If you’re taking a particularly long drive, make sure to stop appropriately for snacking, drinking, and eating. If this can’t be avoided, make sure to pack along ‘smart’ snacks that won’t cause a greasy, crumb-filled mess, or that includes items so small (e.g.: nuts and seeds) that they’re likely to get in all the wrong places.
  6. Make sure you’re all set and ready to go with all the adjustments you require for comfort before revving up that engine. This includes checking the height and position of your seat and all passenger seats, checking all the mirrors, making sure the seatbelts are in good working order, the temperature and/or A/C are at desired levels, the GPS is turned on and ready to roll, and you’ve got your favorite playlist/radio station on. Check for traffic and weather conditions, decide on your route and only then be on your way.
  7. Take care of any pet and/or child passengers before you leave. Make absolutely certain that they’re safely fastened in their seats, secure them, and do all this before you start driving. Should they need your care during the trip, pull over to a safe place by the road and tend to their needs. Avoid reaching out to the back seat, because this might cause you to lose control of the car.
  8. Ask the other passengers for their help in staying focused on the road. Ask them to watch out for obstacles, cyclists, pedestrians, other motorists, exit signs, and so on. Ask them to check the map/traffic/weather for you, or even hand them your phone to answer any pressing messages or calls.
  9. Put all your electronic devices safely away. This includes all types of cellphones, be they handheld or headset enabled. Don’t call or text while driving—strictly use your phone in cases of absolute emergencies. Never write emails, play games, or browse the Internet while driving. This also includes not using the car’s computer system.
  10. If a non-driving-relate emergency does come up, don’t attempt to take care of it while driving. Pull over safely and solve the matter at hand.
  11. Make sure you’ve got plenty of time to travel, so that you don’t feel unnecessarily pressed by time, while out on the road.
  12. Don’t smoke while driving.
  13. Keep both hands on the wheel at all times.
  14. Don’t use your car as storage space for devices you don’t actually need.
  15. If you’re feeling sleepy, by all means, pull over. Government data says some 37% of all U.S. drivers actually fell asleep (or dozed off) at least once in their life, while driving.
  16. Don’t take too many passengers in your car and be very clear about the level of activity and noise that’s allowed inside. Remember that, in many states, GDLs don’t allow teen drivers to driver alongside teen passengers for their first months on a new license.
  17. If you need to multi-task (send text messages, eat, smoke, download music, or call friends), do this outside your car.

Additional reading and resources

There are numerous foundations and organizations out there, which are trying to combat the dangers of distracted driving. Some of the most prominent include:

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