According to the 2020 Traffic Culture Safety Index, published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, most drivers (79.7%) consider using a handheld cell phone as extremely or very dangerous. The percentages jumped to 94.9% and 95.9% for reading or typing, respectively, a text or email on a handheld device. But only 20% of respondents consider hands-free phone use, through Bluetooth and similar technology, while driving to be extremely or very dangerous.
Unfortunately, research has shown that hands-free calling, voice texting, and voice-activated navigation systems don’t reduce the risk of an accident caused by distracted driving. Whether drivers are using hands-free or handheld devices, they can only process about 50% of the cues in their driving environment. The human brain can’t efficiently respond to multiple audio and visual cues simultaneously, and driving requires a lot of brain power to process many cues in rapid succession.
The National Safety Council recommends identifying distracted driving activities in your daily routine and removing the cues that prompt them while you’re driving. In this article, we’ll look at tasks that often distract drivers and how you can avoid them.
What Counts as Distracted Driving?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as engaging in activities that take your eyes off the road (visual), your hands off the wheel (manual), and your mind off driving (cognitive). Common examples include:
- Calling, texting and emailing
- Talking with passengers
- Helping a passenger or pet
- Eating and drinking
- Reaching for an object
- Personal grooming
- Changing car settings or music
- Using voice-activated features
Tips to Prevent Distracted Driving
Since research shows that even hands-free multitasking doesn’t reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted driving, companies and communities are creating tools and policies that discourage this behavior.
Here are some strategies you can adopt as a driver, passenger or community member to help everyone stay focused on the road.
As a driver:
- Download apps or configure your devices to block calls, texts, emails and other notifications. You can still set your phone to allow calls from a few select numbers in case of an emergency.
- Ask passengers to delay serious conversations until you arrive at your destination.
- If children or pets need your attention, pull off the road safely to care for them.
- Wait until your vehicle is stopped at a light or in a parking lot to reach for something, or ask a passenger to get it for you.
- Avoid scheduling meetings during your commutes, and only answer calls and texts with hands-free technology in emergencies.
- Eat or finish personal grooming at home.
- Let friends and family know that you don’t like to talk or text while driving.
As a passenger:
- Acknowledge that even navigation tips will compete with the driver’s focus on the road. Give short directions that start with an action (“get in the left lane for the upcoming merge”).
- Offer to change the music, adjust the climate control, reach for items on the floorboard, reset navigation settings for the driver, etc.
As a community member:
- If you’re an employer, make it a policy that you and your employees can’t talk or text about work when one party is driving.
- Warn teens of the danger of distracted driving. Nine percent of drivers aged 15-20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.
- Don’t call family members and friends when you know they’re driving unless it’s an emergency.