Remaining safe while driving -- in order to protect yourself and everyone around you -- means avoiding as many distractions as possible. According to a 2013 National Center for Statistics and Analysis study, on each day in the United States, about eight people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.
Though you might immediately think of the visual and manual distractions of texting, cognitive distractions also pull your attention away from the road, affecting your response times when a danger exists or crosses into the road ahead of you. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists cognitive distractions as anything that takes your mind off driving, which could range from an animated conversation in your car to the simultaneous sounds of a voice on the radio heard at the same time as a speaking person in your car, resulting in divided your attention. Texting while driving, then, is a dangerous blend of all three distractions -- visual, manual and cognitive.
Yet it's not just texting that poses great danger to your focus while driving. Any number of distractions can occur, and it only takes a split second.
Here are five ways to cut down your risks of distracted driving:
1) Use a hands-free device. Though it's not a perfect solution, a hands-free cell service, such as a Bluetooth, allows you to take a call without searching your handbag for your smartphone. When used only for emergencies, and not for time-killing conversations with friends, hands-free devices can allow you more focus on your driving.
2) Have your passenger read signs. Some road signs and illuminated traffic signs contain several lines of text that can take your eyes off the road for a few seconds. Some of these signs are not emergency signs but may instead feature something such as information on the free concert in the park coming up this weekend, which could be an even bigger distraction. If your passenger reads important sign information to you, your eyes stay on the road.
3) Secure groceries in the back of your car. If you've ever driven home from the supermarket and hear your groceries rolling around in the back of your car and feared that your cantaloupe would crush your eggs, you know the distraction of unsecured groceries. Set sturdy bins in the back of your vehicle to place your grocery bags into to keep your purchases from shifting, rolling and causing destruction in the back of the car.
4) Harness or crate your dog. It may be easier to let your dog jump into the back seat of your car, but stopping short can cause your unrestrained pet injury. Get your pet used to a safer way to travel, and you won't need to keep looking in your rearview mirror to see where he is or worry about him jumping into the front seat to nuzzle you while you're driving.
5) Pull in to a parking lot for distracting activities. If you must take an important business or personal call, pull in to the nearest safe parking lot in order to take the call. If you wish to eat or drink during your commute, it's far safer to do so while parked -- even if it means adding a few minutes to your travel time -- than it is to risk an accident because you dripped ketchup on your shirt or spilled coffee on your lap. Trying to drink from a piping hot cup of coffee while driving can result in an unpleasant experience.
It may be unrealistic to achieve total silence from your passengers while you're driving, but you can cut down on the noise level by teaching your kids that it's important for you to focus on the road, so requests must wait until a red light. When you have adults in your car who are talking too boisterously, arguing or creating any distractions, do not be afraid to ask them to keep it down. They may not have noticed that you've entered a challenging stretch of the highway or a busy shopping area where cars pull out of parking lots haphazardly. As the diver and controller of the vehicle, you have every right to ask for their consideration.
Reading and sending texts can wait until you reach your destination, as texting while at a red light can still cause distraction. For instance, with your attention on texting, you may not see a bicyclist or pedestrian who has moved up alongside your car. Teach your family the rules of avoiding distracted driving both directly and via your example to create a safer driving experience for all.