The Top 5 Causes of Distracted Driving

According to a 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF link), one out of every five car crashes causing an injury involved some element of distracted driving, and 16% of all fatal automobile accidents also involved distracted driving.

Statistics show that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds can double your risk of a crash. Unfortunately, most drivers engaging in distracted behaviors are losing sight of the road long enough to quadruple their risk of an accident. For example, a report commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (PDF link) found that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of blindly driving an entire football field at 55 miles per hour.

Despite the well documented dangers of distracted driving, it continues to pose a serious problem. However, as a recent article from Our Kids points out, it’s not just cell phones that are causing problems on our roadways. Here are the top 5 causes of driver distractions:

1) Cell Phones

It’s no surprise that cell phones are the leading cause of distracted driving. A study conducted by the University of Utah (PDF link) found that using a cell phone while driving (even if it’s hands free) creates the same delayed reactions as a person with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent (the legal limit).

2) Car Stereos

Although adjusting the radio is a common task while driving, having preset stations and exercising common sense can help eliminate this distraction. As Csaba Csere, editor of Car and Driver magazine explains, “…the most important safety factor is a competent driver paying attention to the task behind the wheel…Don’t tune the radio when you’re negotiating traffic in a complicated intersection.”

3) Passengers

Whether it’s turning around to talk to your kids or looking at the person sitting in your passenger seat, the NHTSA estimates that talking to passengers was the leading distraction in 7,000 crashes last year. Although the department’s research stated that passengers typically pose only a “cognitive” distraction, it’s still one of the most common causes of distracted driving.

4) GPS Devices

Even with the helpful intention of navigating drivers to their destination, GPS devices can present a major distraction. Some studies suggest that any sort of distraction is just as dangerous as using your cell phone, and because GPS devices require the same type of visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver as sending a text message, they’re potentially just as dangerous.

5) Eating or Drinking

A UK insurance provider commissioned a study confirming that when it comes to reducing a driver’s reactions, snacking while driving is on par with using a cell phone. The report determined that, “the mental workload required to eat, drink and drive at the same time was significantly raised, indicating that drivers who consume en route have a greatly reduced ability to deal with other events.”

Despite being the most frequent, these five causes aren’t the only instances of distracted driving. Other common examples include smoking, grooming, dropping something, or even reading a newspaper or book. Regardless of the activity, keeping attention focused on the task at hand and eliminating unnecessary distractions can have a major impact on a driver’s overall safety.

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