What Are the Most Common Types of Distractions While Driving?

What Are the Most Common Types of Distractions While Driving?

When you think of distraction behind the wheel, what comes to mind? Many people suffer from distraction behind the wheel without even realizing it, from dealing with other passengers in the vehicle to struggling to keep attention on the task of driving due to racing thoughts or outside concerns. Take a look at some of the most common distractions behind the wheel. 

Common Types of Distractions While Driving Guide

What Is Distracted Driving?

Most Common Types of Distractions While Driving

Distracted driving includes any behavior that takes the driver away from the task of driving.

Distraction behind the wheel includes three key categories. 

  • Manual distraction includes anything that takes the driver's hands off the wheel while operating a motor vehicle.
  • Visual distractions take the driver's eyes off the road while driving. Typically, that means looking at something inside the vehicle instead of paying attention to the things outside it. 
  • Cognitive distractions may not take the driver's eyes or hands away from the road. Still, they split the driver's attention, slowing reaction times and making it more difficult for the driver to deal with the responsibilities of driving. 
  • Any distraction, especially if it occurs at the wrong moment, can prove deadly out on the road. Often, dealing with distractions causes drivers to lose track of their vehicles and their place on the road, leading to catastrophic accidents.

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    The Most Common Driving Distractions

    Many people find themselves struggling with distraction behind the wheel on a regular basis. Often, those distractions include things that the driver does not even think about or tasks that the driver may take for granted. 

    1. Cell Phone Use

    Even though most states have clear laws against texting and driving, many people continue to use their phones while operating a motor vehicle. Texting and driving involves all three types of distraction: visual distraction, when the driver looks down at the phone; manual distraction, because the driver must take at least one hand off the wheel to deal with the phone; and cognitive distraction because the driver turns his attention from the task of driving to the phone. 

    Cell phone use does not necessarily have to mean texting and driving, either.

    Drivers may also use their phones in other ways that could prove incredibly distracting.

    • Checking emails. Sometimes, drivers think nothing of glancing down long enough to check incoming email messages. Busy workers may be more likely to look down to check those messages despite the potential for immense distraction, especially if they have long commutes. 
    • Scrolling social media. Some drivers, especially young drivers, may have difficulty keeping their attention away from social media long enough to reach their destinations safely. Scrolling social media while driving, even at red lights and stop signs, can make it difficult for drivers to focus on the road.
    • Checking apps or playing games. Even a brief moment of looking down at an app can take the driver's eyes from the road at a crucial moment. Some drivers, however, may want to continue gaming while driving. 
    • Glancing at incoming notifications. Some drivers struggle to keep their attention on the road when a phone buzzes, no matter what type of notification comes in. 
    • Talking on the phone. Most people do not think twice about a phone conversation behind the wheel, especially if they can manage it hands-free. However, a phone conversation can prove very distracting, especially if the driver has his attention on an emotional or intense conversation. 

    Any cell phone use on the road often involves immense distraction and can quickly result in a dangerous crash. States continue to ban cell phone use behind the wheel, but drivers often fail to adhere to those restrictions. 

    2. Smart Device Use

    While most states ban cell phone use behind the wheel or allow for only hands-free use of any device, some users do not correlate the use of smart devices with cell phone use. They may also think they have lower odds of getting caught using a smart device since glancing at a watch involves less obvious movements than looking down at a cell phone.

    However, smart devices, particularly commonly-worn smartwatches, can prove more distracting than cell phones.

    • Smart devices may put out more notifications than cell phones. For example, many fitness watches will issue move notifications if they feel the wearer has remained stationary or failed to take the proper number of steps within a pre-specified timeframe. 
    • Smartwatches usually have smaller screens, meaning the user must look down at them longer to get the message. The user may have to wait for a text to scroll or push more buttons to get the full notification rather than simply glancing down at the phone. 
    • Smartwatches may serve as a more immediate distraction. As wearable devices, they buzz directly on the user's skin, which can prove more difficult to ignore. Many users prove less likely to remove a watch before getting behind the wheel, though they might leave a phone tucked in a purse or put it in the back to avoid reaching for it while driving. 

    As smart devices become increasingly popular, more drivers struggle with the distractions offered by these devices and the need to keep their attention on the road while using them.

    3. Eating and Drinking

    Many drivers do not think twice about eating and drinking behind the wheel. They rush out the door in the morning and plan to eat breakfast or drink coffee on the way to work rather than taking the time to sit down and finish a full morning routine before starting the commute. They pull through a drive-through and unwrap a burger or sandwich before they get out on the road. They might pick up a smoothie and start sipping away as they pull into traffic.

    Eating and drinking behind the wheel seems natural, especially on long road trips. After all, you need sustenance, and why not save time on the way? However, eating or drinking can prove a more potent distraction than many people realize, especially when trying to eat or drink messy foods. Taking one hand off the wheel to eat a sandwich or much on fries offers a manual distraction while focusing on the flavor of a favorite snack can prove cognitively distracting.

    Messy foods and beverages can prove particularly problematic. For example, if the thick contents of a smoothie cup fall into the drinker's face as he takes a gulp, it could prove very distracting, often at the worst possible moment. The cheese falling off a sandwich or a glop of ketchup landing in the driver's lap can also prove very distracting, leading to a collision as the driver struggles to deal with problems inside the vehicle.

    4. GPS Devices

    GPS devices offer a lot of advantages. They make it much easier for drivers to find new locations, whether they need to find their way to a new business across town or navigate across the country. Furthermore, many GPS platforms make it easier for drivers to avoid potential traffic snarls or help them track dangerous areas ahead. 

    However, those platforms can also offer a number of potential distractions. Drivers who pay attention to their devices rather than to the road may end up missing events taking place around them. They may grow distracted by checking directions, looking for obstacles on the road described by the app, or trying to input a new destination.

    5. Changing Music

    Many drivers take music for granted when traveling down the road. From radio stations to streaming services, however, changing those music channels can introduce more distractions on the road and make it more difficult for drivers to keep their attention on driving. Looking down to flip through songs, or checking an on-board screen to determine what song they want to listen to, can also cause drivers to be distracted. 

    Furthermore, sometimes, drivers can end up distracted as their favorite songs come on, and they get excited about singing:

    • Drumming on the steering wheel.
    • Closing their eyes to enjoy the music.
    • Simply throwing back their heads and belting out the song without remembering to watch what takes place around them. 

    6. Work Tasks

    Some drivers attempt to get in more work on the morning commute.

    They may, for example:

    • Check emails
    • Read over paperwork
    • Take phone calls
    • Try to complete basic tasks or prepare for meetings

    Often, that means substantial distraction. Work calls may prove more distracting than regular phone calls since drivers may feel they must maintain a higher level of professional courtesy and may have a harder time appropriately dividing their attention. That higher focus on the work conversation can lead to increased challenges as they navigate the road. 

    7. Putting on Makeup

    Some drivers attempt to finish getting ready for the day while completing their morning commute. For some people, that means putting on makeup. Most drivers will perform those tasks while stopped at red lights, but they may still complete some of their makeup routines, including putting on lipstick, eyeliner, or mascara, while traveling. 

    8. Dealing With Children and Animals

    Children and animals can pose a serious distraction in many vehicles. Children usually sit in the back seat of the vehicle, which means that their demands on the driver's attention can mean looking into the back seat, either directly or using mirrors, to ensure that the child has not suffered any harm.

    The driver may end up reaching into the back seat to help a child or to deal with a dropped object, all of which can mean both manual and visual distractions from the road. 

    Furthermore, children often demand their parent's attention. Unlike other passengers, children do not appreciate when drivers need to keep more attention on the road, which may mean greater overall distraction. 

    Pets wandering around the vehicle can also take drivers' attention off the road. Pets can step into dangerous spots or even hit gear shifts, push the steering wheel, or interfere with drivers' actions at dangerous moments. 

    9. Conversations in the Vehicle

    Conversations with passengers inside the vehicle take place naturally. Passengers can see what takes place around the vehicle, which means they understand pauses or can stop talking when dangers approach. However, sometimes, conversations can pose a significant distraction for the driver, especially when conversations become arguments. Some drivers, especially young drivers, may struggle to split their attention between the road and the conversation. 

    10. Personal Distractions

    Most distractions occur when a driver deliberately tries to do something besides driving while operating a motor vehicle. However, some distractions can occur internally.

    For example, drivers may have trouble keeping their attention on the road when:

    • Driving while very emotional. A highly emotional driver may stay more focused on the emotional event than on the task of driving, increasing the risk of an accident.
    • Lost in thought. Serious internal conversations or challenges can prove just as distracting as external problems. 
    • Suffering from a need to use the restroom. A physical distraction can make it very difficult for drivers to maintain their focus on the road and keep up with the demands of driving.

    Personal distractions can prove difficult to see and evaluate. However, they can mean danger for a driver struggling with them.

    Contact a Lawyer After a Distracted Driving Accident

    Distracted driving accidents can mean severe injuries since drivers may not look away from the distraction in time to reduce the impact of a collision. If you suffered injuries in a distracted driving accident, contact a personal injury attorney as soon after the accident as possible to learn more about your right to compensation.


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