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The Truth About Distracted Driving

distracted driving

With so many drivers on the road – all with something blinking, ringing or chatting nearby – it’s important to be wary of distracted driving. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of a crash.

Distracted Driving Affects Everyone

3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2020, according to the latest research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Distracted driving involves any activity that can cause a driver to take their eyes, hands or mind off the road, endangering themselves and others. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system and eating while driving are a few examples.

A large majority of respondents surveyed for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index perceived reading (93%) and typing (92%) a text/email as very or extremely dangerous. The concern for these distracted driving behaviors is right up there with drowsy and drunk or impaired driving.

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Should There Be Texting While Driving Bans?

All states have a law in place that bans motorists from using mobile devices completely or partially while driving, some stricter than others.

Most drivers agree with these restrictions, with nearly 80% supporting laws against holding and talking on a cellphone behind the wheel. However, only 45% of drivers surveyed for the Traffic Safety Culture Index support laws against reading, typing, or sending a text or email while driving.

Attitude vs. Behavior

Despite a high number of drivers reporting the perceived danger, risks of arrest and personal/social disapproval of mobile use behind the wheel – and being in favor of distracted driving laws related to handheld devices – many drivers still do not practice what they preach.

About 26% of drivers admitted to driving while typing or sending a text/email at least once in the past month. More than one-third (37%) reported talking on the phone and 36% admitted to reading a hand-held device while behind the wheel.

distracted driving

Distraction From In-Car Technologies

As part of separate study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety looked at just how distracting car tech can be. Participants were asked to use interactive technologies such as voice commands and touch screens to make a call, send a text message or program navigation while driving, to evaluate visual and cognitive demands, as well as the amount of time spent to use these features.

The research revealed that while car infotainment systems and connected car apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can help cut down on distracted driving activities, they can still take the driver’s eyes off the road for a significant amount of time, especially older drivers.

On average, older drivers (ages 55-75) removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36) when performing simple tasks like programming navigation or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment technology.

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22 Thoughts on “The Truth About Distracted Driving

  1. The Vision Zero people–who target speed, and not driver distraction–have mostly not managed to reduce traffic deaths and injuries in the US. In fact, both are getting worse in most parts of the country. They would do so much better to go after the touch screens, use of telephones while driving, and other such that ARE responsible for crashes. Some of these devices can distract drivers from scanning the roads for as much as 30 seconds.

  2. There is still a percentage of drivers who are not at all distracted but really are not good drivers. They are just steering wheel holders that see little more than 3 car lengths of empty space in front of them. I’d rather be among better drivers even if they occasionally sip coffee.

  3. Recently I had to rent a car and was given a 2023 Suburu, a brand that is supposed to be tops in safety. The dashboard was so distracting that I had to pull over just ot figure out had to use the radio. I couldn’t wait to get my own car back. Driving is a job and like any job you can’t do it well if you are multi tasking

  4. its hard to understand how authorities could really know how many accidents are caused by distractions, for example I don’t think anyone automatically checks phone use, not to speak of fooling with the radio etc. But when they can determine it, distracted driving that leads to death or injury should face enhanced penalties, maybe that will provide some deterrence. Also design of the dashboard needs to be rethought to help reduce distraction

  5. Unfortunately, the Police do nothing about the speed limit and cell phones, sad, I see it every day.

  6. I’ve got a new 2022 vehicle, with a mid-dash “infotainment” screen, now being incorporated into every new vehicle being produced today. They are cheaper for the manufacturers to build than to make the old button-and-knob controls of yesterday. It takes me 4 consecutive touches on that screen JUST TO CHANGE RADIO STATIONS!
    THESE ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS AUTOMOBILE INVENTION, since muscle cars and slicks. They should be outlawed.

    1. Larry, you are 100% correct. The designers of the infotainment centers have become so enamored with creating new functions and looks that they have completely forgotten how important it is to make the most basic functions simple and easy. They also have apparently overlooked the fact that someone driving the vehicle will often be using it, rather than someone sitting on the couch at home.

    2. I was planning to trade in my 2015 Mercedes, but when I saw that newer cars had computer screens rather than push buttons, I decided to hold onto the old car that let me keep my eyes on the road. I keep hoping that insurance companies will weigh in and increase rates for cars that are built to distract.

  7. In most cases, to text or respond to an email or to read news on your phone, you are clearly taking your eyes off the road.
    I have never understood the restrictions on speaking on the phone. Is speaking to a passenger in the car less distracting? What about caring for a baby in the car? What about people who pile things on their passenger seats that keep falling or sliding every time the car stops? What about people who drink coffee? How is speaking any more distracting than these other activities?

    1. Yes, speaking over the phone is different from speaking to a passenger. While speaking over the phone, your mind is more connected to the unseen person at the other end of the call, and thereby less present on the road. Conversely, no only do you keep your mind in the immediate context while speaking to a passenger, but the passenger will notice when you take your attention fully back to driving and may even assist in your doing so, as in “Watch out for that dog.” There is a huge psychological difference here that must be acknowledged. Attention while driving is more that keeping your eyes on the road, it is also, or mostly, keeping your mind on the road.

  8. A few years ago I was stopped to wait for oncoming traffic to clear to turn left to get onto the highway. While waiting with my blinker on, I glanced into my rear view mirror to see if vehicles were behind me, although the road was wide enough to go around me. I noticed a car approaching me & not slowing down. When I saw that the young woman driving was looking down, I sped up to go straight as traffic didn’t ease up to go left. She never saw me & almost totaled my car. She admitted she was looking at her phone & commented that she wished her phone would shut off while in her car. My iPhone does turn off while I’m in the car to eliminate that distraction.

    1. She says she wishes her phone would shut off while she was in her car? She can shut it off manually before she even gets into her car. Did she ever think of that? That’s common sense. Something a lot of people lack in today’s society.

  9. I would imagine distracted driving kills more people than drunk or drugged driving possibly even combined. The simple facts is not everybody drinks or does drugs but it looks like people live on their phones. I’ve seen videos of distracted people walking into fountains falling down manholes and tripping into open cellars

    1. As far as I’m concerned, insofar as both distracted driving and drugged-out or drunk driving goes, one’s as bad and dangerous as the other insofar as causing accidents go. If one really must text or make a phone call, s/he should pull over and stop to put a text message in their phone, or to make a phone call. There’s no excuse for not paying attention to one’s driving, especially nowadays.

  10. Who in their right mind does anything but keep their eyes on the road while driving a ton or two vehicle. I have approximately 1 and a half million miles behind the wheel and am astounded at what I observe too many drivers doing.

  11. I firmly do not use my cell phone at all while driving. If expecting a call, I tell my caller to leave a message, that I DO NOT answer while behind the wheel, and will respond as soon as I can pull to side of road.

    1. Hi William,
      That is good practice for traffic safety. Most smart phones are equipped to silence notifications while driving, auto-sending a message to the caller/texter that the user is driving. Thank you for the feedback and best practice. -MM

  12. What about all the people who drive around with their small dogs on their laps or hanging out the drivers side window in the arms of their owners? In my opinion that is more distracting than most of the other things people do while driving.

    1. Hi Michael,
      Very good point. Pet owners should be mindful of the pet’s safety as well as their own! Thank you for your feedback! -MM

    2. If people take their pets to the veterinarian or wherever, they should purchase a pet harness for a dog or cat, or, if it’s a bird, put their bird(s) in a carrier, and put the carrier in a seat belt.

    1. Hi there!
      Yes, eating behind the wheel is definitely a distraction that AAA cautions against. AAA Northeast President and CEO John Galvin wrote about the dangers of distracted driving – including eating behind the wheel – in a recent column.
      You can also find out more about distracted driving at our website, AAA.com/DistractedDriving.
      Thanks for reading!
      -Dana

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