We all get distracted sometimes, even when we’re driving. It’s a busy life - or at least, it feels busy - and we’re constantly multitasking to cope with that. But eating while driving, finishing your morning routine of makeup or haircare, and even changing the radio station are all forms of distracted driving. They require some combination of visual, manual, and/or cognitive attention, taking that attention away from the road.
In this age of increased connectivity, another big factor that gets in the way of our driving is our phones. A recent Pew study reported 68% of Americans own smartphones, and a Gallup poll showed that 72% of smartphone owners check their phone at least once per hour, with 81% reporting keeping their smartphone with them at almost all times during waking hours.
For many, it doesn’t stop when they get behind the wheel. Research shows that the percentage of drivers texting or otherwise using a handheld device behind the wheel is on the rise, having increased between 2013 and 2014 - from 1.7% to 2.2%. At any given moment, approximately 660,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone. But texting while driving is one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving, because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention to all be pulled away from the primary task: driving. In 2014, 3,179 people died and another 431,000 were injured as a result of distracted driving.
It can be hard to put the phone away, especially in a culture of smartphone dependence, which has even sparked conversation as to whether there exists an addiction to cell phones. So here’s a few tips to help you put down the phone - and other distractions - and stay focused on driving.
It’s almost second nature to check our phones at this point, especially when we hear that little bing. But don’t forget that even if you only look away for 5 seconds, travelling 55 miles per hour, you’ll have covered the distance of a football field without your eyes on the road.
To curb temptation, dedicate yourself to a safe drive and just put the phone in the glove compartment, or the backseat where you can’t reach it. Turn off the volume if the notifications will be too tempting or distracting. If you need your phone to navigate, - and your state laws permit it - invest in a hands-free mount that will allow you to hear directions and see the map in your peripheral vision while you keep your eyes on the road.
Before you even put the key in the ignition or the gearshift in drive, check that your seat is where you want it, that your mirrors are positioned properly, and the radio is on the correct station. If your car radio has preset options, take the time one day to assign them to your favorite stations, so you’ll never need to waste your focus on scanning through station by station.
This goes for things like eating, drinking, and personal grooming too. Either finish before you get in the car, or plan to do it after your drive is over.
It’s vital to stay alert while driving, focusing your senses to visual and auditory signals on the road - from horns and sirens to signs and signals. Never wear headphones while driving or otherwise block your hearing. The music could be a distraction, and headphone use additionally impair your ability to hear what’s going on around you. If you must listen to music off of your phone or mp3 player, you can get inexpensive audio cords and adapters that will allow you to listen through your car’s speakers.
Additionally, be sure that you have your full range of vision while driving. Do your best to keep your hair out of your eyes; wear sunglasses and use your car’s visors to help with vision on bright days; and never put large objects on your dashboard or hang them from a rearview mirror - these items can obstruct your view of what’s happening on the road.
Make sure the other people in your car are aware of your commitment to focused driving. They can help remind you not to pick up that phone, and to keep your focus on the road. Be sure that kids know this is not an appropriate time for you to play with them, and that your friends are aware that you cannot check out anyone’s newest instapic or the latest viral vid while you’re behind the wheel. They should be grateful that your focus puts their safety first.
This also goes for when you’re a passenger, too! Don’t let your driver engage in dangerous behaviors - remind them that it’s their life and your that they risk putting in peril. Be sure you’re not distracting them either. Conversation is normal, but you shouldn’t ask them to focus on anything other than driving.
Caption(?): You don’t see Obama using his phone, do you? The President’s senses are unobstructed, his eyes are on the road, and his passenger is pleased with his focus on driving.
Having your possessions roll around the floor as you drive, or passengers moving within the vehicle while it’s in motion can be incredibly distracting. Avoid this altogether by ensuring passengers are safely buckled up, kids are in appropriate car sets, and pets are secured in crates. Keep the car clean and free of debris so as to ensure it doesn’t end up underfoot, and secure any loose belongings safely in the trunk, glove compartment, or in the care of another passenger.
There are definitely times when something demands attention other than driving - kids, pets, the need to use the restroom, even an emergency phone call. If there’s something going on that’s more important than driving, stop driving. Find a safe and legal spot to pull over and park in order to address the situation.
Want to learn more about Distracted Driving and Distracted Driving Awareness Month? Click here to see Urgent.ly’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month page and take the pledge to help end distracted driving!