Often when we think of distracted driving, we think of cell phones. And that’s for good reason: cell phone use while driving is a major cause of distraction behind the wheel, and a major cause of motor vehicle crashes. 

But cell phones aren’t the only problem. Distraction can come from all kinds of sources, and is listed in one survey as the top risky driving behavior, with 88 percent of drivers believing that distraction has significantly increased in recent years. Here, we look at the different kinds of distraction that can happen when you’re in the car. 

What is Distracted Driving?

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Distracted driving is the act of operating a vehicle without your full attention focused on the physical, mental and psychological demands of driving.” 

Three Types of Distraction

Knowing the risks is one of the first steps to changing behavior. As a driver, it’s important for you to be aware of the various ways you can be distracted, so you can be alert and attentive to them in your own driving, and reduce your risk of crashing. 

The Centers for Disease Control names three main types of distraction. 

Visual distraction: Taking your eyes off the road

Texting while driving is one example. When reading or sending a text, you remove your eyes from the road for about five seconds—long enough to cover the length of a football field at 55 mph. 

Other kinds of visual distraction include looking for something in the vehicle, scanning for an address, looking at a passenger, looking at your lunch in your lap, and using in-vehicle electronic devices for navigation and entertainment (including Apple CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto, and native vehicle systems). Plugging an address into one of these systems can take an average of 40 seconds to complete. That’s eight football-field lengths of road! 

Manual distraction: Taking your hands off the wheel

Interestingly, there’s a lot of crossover in activities that cause manual distraction and those that cause visual distraction, having a compounding effect on your reaction time.

A few of these activities include trying to keep your sandwich together, adjusting the volume on your navigation or in-vehicle entertainment device, using a handheld cell phone, and reaching for something in your vehicle. 

Cognitive distraction: Taking your mind off the task at hand

When your mind is on anything but the road and the driving activity, that’s cognitive distraction. Even though it’s extremely common to let your mind wander while you’re driving, the harsh reality is that, just like other distractions, it’s just not safe. 

This type of distraction also has a lot of sources: Conversing with your passengers, trying to quiet (or tune out) noisy kids in the backseat, mulling over something that happened at work, or even getting too involved listening to your favorite true crime podcast. 

What You Can Do

  • Look carefully and consistently at your own driving behavior and resolve to change those areas where you tend to get distracted. 
  • Be an example to others in your vehicle and family by not picking up your phone or engaging in other behavior that distracts you while driving.
  • Know the distracted driving laws in your area and don’t consider yourself an exception to the laws. In 2019, Arizona passed a law banning hand-held communication devices while driving. 

Looking for a way to improve your driving skills? Our defensive driving courses at Stop and Go Defensive School can help you prepare to deal with distracted drivers and overcome distracting habits in your own driving. Find a course today.