What Constitutes Distracted Driving?
We often hear we shouldn’t text and drive (we shouldn’t) and that we shouldn’t drive distracted (we shouldn’t), but just as often people make the mistake of thinking that distracted driving is texting while driving. It is, and a whole lot more.
So what constitutes distracted driving, exactly?
You might be surprised to learn that the most common form of distracted driving isn’t texting while driving or even using your phone at all. The most common form is eating or drinking at the wheel, and it’s not as safe as you’d think.
Other forms of distracted driving include looking at children, watching videos, reading, talking to a passenger, applying makeup, setting or changing a GPS system, and generally anything that takes your attention away from the road—yes, even just changing the channel on the radio. Those buttons on your wheel aren’t just there for convenience; they’re also supposed to make it safer to enjoy the basic features of the vehicle.
The takeaway is that any time a driver shifts his eyes away from the road or moves his hands off the wheel, it’s a risk. It might not always seem like a big risk, but even something as simple as looking at a roadside object increases the likelihood of a crash or near-crash by a whopping factor of 4.
Some of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving are dialing a cell phone (8.3), reaching for an object other than a cell phone (8), and, you’ve guessed it, reaching for a cell phone (7.1).
It should be noted that texting while driving is banned in 46 states and that any use of a hand-held cell phone is banned in 14. These are all primary enforcement laws, which means that yes, the police officer can absolutely cite a driver for just those reasons and none other.
However, no state bans all cell phone use, which is why in-car infotainment systems with voice-activated text reading and messaging are on the rise. We can’t stop people from being distracted, but we can give them tools to be safer when they are.