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10 causes of distracted driving

June 6, 2017

Whether driving professionally or on your own time, minimizing these distractions can help save lives.

Fred Myatt

Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director

As Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director for Zurich North America, Fred and his... About this expert

Couple talking in car

Understanding that drivers are human and can create a number of risks on the road, governments, tech companies and auto manufacturers are working to make self-driving cars a reality (though these vehicles are not without their own potential dangers). Until these vehicles become widely available, though, distracted driving will continue to be a major contributor to crash-related injuries and deaths.

Although states and the federal government enact and enforce laws to limit cellphone use and prohibit texting while driving, employers also have a responsibility to address distracted driving in their fleets. Even where companies have policies pertaining to mobile phone use, these guidelines may not go far enough to address the full spectrum of distractions.

Whether you employ drivers or simply want to help protect employees who travel to work every day, raising awareness of the following 10 common driving distractions can help reduce risks…and maybe even prevent a tragedy.

Talking on the phone

Despite widespread awareness about the dangers of using a phone while driving, the behavior persists. Many believe that talking on the phone while driving is safe with hands-free technology. However, a recent study shows otherwise.

Texting and other phone manipulation

Whether texting or checking something online via a smartphone, a few seconds with your eyes off the road could be the last mistake you make. At 55 mph, a car travels 80 feet every second. Reading a text takes an average of almost five seconds. Your car could travel the length of a football field before you look back at the road.

Talking with another passenger

Let’s be realistic. Whether carpooling to work or driving with friends or family, we’re going to talk with fellow passengers. There’s a plus side to having another set of eyes on traffic, but it’s negated when conversation diverts your attention from the road. Drivers and passengers need to “save it for later” when road conditions are treacherous, traffic patterns change quickly or the conversation simply diminishes the driver’s focus.

Moving objects/animals in the vehicle

Whether it’s a pet along for the ride, an insect flying through a window or any object that drops out of position, something moving unexpectedly can be a distraction. Further, our reflex action instinctively compels us to reach for something sliding off a seat – but the damage caused by letting that object fall will likely be far less impactful than the risks associated with not paying attention to the road. If a pet is distracting you, pull over and take measures to calm the animal, including using a cage or restraints if necessary.

Adjusting audio and/or climate controls

Scanning the radio or continuously adjusting your car’s air conditioning or heating might seem like a mindless task, but it can keep your focus away from the road longer than you think. Set your tunes and temp before you drive.

Manipulating car components and controls

It’s often important to adjust your car’s rearview and exterior mirrors, roll up the windows, adjust your seat or check a navigational device. These tasks divert attention, however, so pull over to complete them whenever possible. When it’s not possible, make sure you’re familiar enough with the vehicle’s controls to make adjustments while keeping your eyes on the road.

Reaching for an object or device

Changing that CD or grabbing a package of breath mints may not take long, but whenever you reach for something, one hand is off the wheel and chances are your eyes aren’t on the road. Whatever you are reaching for can usually wait until the car is not moving.

“Rubbernecking” and other outside distractions

It’s hard not to look when you pass an accident site, glimpse an animal on the side of the road or see anything unexpected along your route. Looking may be unavoidable, but taking your eyes off the road, even if you slow down, increases the risk of an accident.

Eating or drinking

Eating and drinking necessitates one-handed driving, and dropping food or spilling a beverage can create a serious distraction. If you must have a beverage, use a spill-free container and don’t hold it continuously. When it’s time to eat, pull off the road – you probably don’t want mustard decorating your shirt or blouse anyway.

Smoking

Putting aside smoking’s other well-known health risks, smoking while driving also means one hand is frequently off the wheel. Falling cigarette ash or cinders create additional hazards. If you can’t kick the habit, at least knock it off on the road.

 

For more tips on mitigating distraction, please read Distracted Driving: An Avoidable Risk.

Distractions selected from attributes included in data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES).