The dangers of using your phone while driving has become an especially hot topic in the era of cellular phones, and especially smart phones that offer a great host of distractions-distractions that are safe when you’re not operating a motor vehicle. Texting, talking, browsing and checking out that YouTube video that looked too funny to wait for are dangerous behaviors. We know that, and most of us practice safe driving without that distraction in our hands. But your phone isn’t the only distraction that you have to worry about when you’re behind the wheel.
Did you know that cell phones are not the primary cause of accidents related to distracted driving? While they account for more than 10% of motor vehicle accidents, this figure falls to second place in the list of most common driving distractions. What’s number one? Being lost in thought.
1). “Spacing out,” or being lost in thought
You’re driving a familiar route, and before you know it you’re at your destination. You don’t remember driving there, or much of anything after you got into the car, but here you are. Has this happened to you? If it has, you’re not the only one. Well over half of distracted driving accidents are caused by the driver spacing out and being inattentive all on their own.
Even if you know the route to and from work, for example, like the back of your hand you still need to be alert when you’re driving. You might know the roads and landmarks well enough that you can just breeze right on by them without incident, but the unexpected can happen even when you’re not paying close attention. An accident in front of you, a person or animal in the road, and unexpected maneuvers made by other motorists can take a routine drive and make it into a painful, and even fatal, trip.
By the time the drivers in these accidents realize what is in front of them, the accident has already happened or it has become too late to prevent it.
The only surefire way to do your part in preventing these accidents is to practice mindfulness. Remind yourself each time you get behind the wheel, if you must, the importance of being alert to what is happening around you. Be proactive about safety. Next time you hit the brakes to avoid a near-collision, you’ll be grateful that you were.
As unsafe as it is to get distracted by your own thoughts while driving, external factors are another common cause of these distraction-related accidents.
2). Outside elements
Have you ever slowed down to check out an accident on the highway? Or taken your eyes off the road for what feels like a “split second” to check out a cute dog, a sign or someone else’s vehicle? The world is a cool place, and nobody can blame you for wanting to look at things that you find amusing in some way. But the driver’s seat is not the right place to be when you feel like checking out the scenery. When you peel your eyes away from the road in front of you, you reduce your ability to respond to the environment around your vehicle.
Surprisingly, external elements outside of your car are more common distractions than the elements within your car-including other people. But it still deserves a mention on this list.
We’re going to use this word again, because it is really that important: mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is essential to safe driving no matter where you are or how far the drive is. Stay focused on the road and make safety priority number one whenever you’re driving.
3). Food and drinks
In this fast-paced life that we lead, it can be hard to find the time to do everything that you need to, including meals. It might sound sensible to multitask, to enjoy a bagel while you’re driving to work so that you can cut down on your time in the morning, but it is anything but. In fact, it is downright dangerous.
We’ve all pulled up through the drive-thru to grab a cup of coffee at the beginning of our day. This is such a common thing to do, that we usually don’t spare it a second thought. But hot drinks are the number one culprit behind food and drink-related motor vehicle accidents. These drinks can cause burns when they spill, and the sudden shock of pain and discomfort is a huge hazard when your vehicle is in motion.
Some coffee and tea drinkers might add sugar, milk or other condiments to their beverages while driving, and this is another dangerous distraction. Even opening packets of sweetener can pull your focus from the road and reduce your reaction time in the event of something unexpected.
In fact, even the actions of eating or drinking can disrupt safe driving practices. Hot and spicy beverages and foods are the biggest culprits, but any food or drink item can pull your attention away from what matters most: getting to your destination safely.
It’s fun to drive around with friends and family, but it’s also a considerable distraction…especially if they are children! Fighting over the radio, conversation in general and the other antics of passengers can avert a driver’s attention from the task of driving. While you probably don’t want to turn your car into a Quiet Zone, if your passengers are distracting you from driving then you should say something. Ask them to rein it in a little bit so that you can focus. You’re not being a buzzkill. You’re driving safely, and your passengers will be happy when they arrive at their destination without incident.
If your driving buddy asks you to hand them something, tell them that it will have to wait. Because even reaching for devices in the car causes a significant number of motor vehicle accidents.
5). Your car itself (bonus!)
So you’ve gotten onto the road only to realize that the taller person who drove it last had adjusted the mirrors, changed the presets on your radio and moved the seat all the way back. This is definitely annoying and not the safest way to drive, but you need to pull over if adjustments need to be made and simply can’t wait for you to reach your destination. You want to be safe and drive with mirrors that offer you good visibility and you want to be able to reach the pedals comfortably. Those things are important in safe driving. But the mere seconds that it may take to make these adjustments is just long enough for something unexpected to happen on the road around you.
There are a lot of things that can distract you while you’re driving that didn’t make this list like smoking, and the presence of pets have all caused distracted driving accidents on Canada’s roads. The five above are not the only distractions that you should be aware of, but they account for the vast majority of these accidents.