Distracted driving is deadly, and those who text while driving are not the only problem. While many people are aware of the dangers of cell phone use while driving, there are several other types of distractions that can just as easily become a matter of life and death on the highway.
According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,331 people were killed in automobile crashes involving distracted driving in 2011, and an additional 387,000 were injured. Other researchers say the actual number is probably much higher, because many crashes are caused by distractions that the driver does not admit to.
Cellphones are a big part of the problem, to be sure. A researcher at the University of Utah found that a cellphone conversation can make a driver four times more likely to crash, about the same risk as drunk driving. Texting is even more dangerous. A 2009 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of commercial vehicle accidents found that text messaging made a crash 23 times more likely.
A lot of attention is paid to the danger of cellphone use while driving, and rightly so. However, there are other types of distraction that a lot of drivers are subject to, but that many do not consider. These include eating food or drinking in the car, grooming, talking with vehicle passengers, attending to pets or children, and simple inattention.
Experts say there are three main categories of distraction: manual, visual and cognitive. Manual distractions include anything a driver does with their hands other than driving, like reaching for a soda or changing the radio station. Visual distractions are those disruptions that cause the driver to look away from the road, such as looking at a map or reading a text message. Cognitive distractions include anything that takes one’s mind off the task of driving, such as a conversation with another occupant of the vehicle or with someone on the phone. An often-overlooked cognitive distraction is simple daydreaming.
One reason texting while driving is so dangerous is that it distracts the driver in all three categories. Someone who is texting is usually manipulating the phone with their hands, looking at the phone and thinking about the message. It’s a deadly combination, and campaigns to put a stop to texting while driving are well worth the effort.
But drivers also need to remember that anything that takes their mind, eyes or hands off the task of driving can be a deadly distraction.