How to avoid three types of distracted driving

Neil Bartlett

Distracted driving plays a role in about one out of every four car crashes in the U.S. That translates to more than 1.3 million wrecks each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Distracted driving comes in many forms, according to NHTSA:

• Visual distraction. This is when a driver looks away from the road to get “visual” information, such as reading a text message.

• Cognitive distraction. This takes mental focus away from driving, such as talking on a cellphone.

• Manual distraction. This is when you take one hand off the steering wheel to, for example, adjust the radio.

Getting a ticket for distracted driving doesn’t necessarily translate to higher car insurance rates. But if your distracted driving leads to a collision or crash, all bets are off. “The better your driving record, the lower your insurance premium,” says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Here are three recommendations about curbing distracted driving.

1. Be careful around schools.

In 2012, high school students monitored 70 intersections near high schools in 26 California counties. They monitored traffic for one hour before school started at each location. The students wrote down observations of drivers, including whether they were eating, drinking or using their cellphones.

The study was funded by the Allstate Foundation and carried out by the California Friday Night Live Partnership, a statewide nonprofit that works with youth to develop leadership skills.

Student observers saw drivers running red lights, eating, drinking, putting on makeup while driving, and using a rearview mirror to check their appearance. One driver was using a tablet computer.

“Distracted driving is avoidable. You don’t have to talk on your cell phone, text while you’re driving, or have the radio blaring,” Allstate spokesman Jim Klapthor says. “Drivers need to reduce distractions across the board. They need to be hyper-aware around schools because teenage pedestrians and kids on bikes can do the unexpected at any time.”

2. Keep your eyes on the road at all times.

Richard Ashton, a retired police chief from Maryland, offers what may be the most accurate definition of distracted driving: focusing on anything other than driving while you’re behind the wheel.

A 2011 study from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that any distraction affects driving performance. The study’s authors point out that even hearing a barking dog can be a distraction.

Of course, texting while you’re driving remains the most serious driving distraction. Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute says texting while you’re driving raises your risk of a crash by 23 times. When you send or receive a text while driving, you’re taking your eyes away from the road for almost 5 seconds – that’s like driving blind for the length of a football field.

But that doesn’t mean that other unsafe behavior while driving is any better. Adjusting your radio, reaching for something, reading maps, fiddling with your navigation system, eating and drinking, applying makeup, watching a video – anything that’s a distraction can lead to a crash.

3. Make your dashboard easy to read.

If you’re on a business trip and driving a rental car or if you’ve purchased a new or used vehicle, don’t choose a font on your dashboard that distracts you.

In one study, drivers were exposed to two sets of texts – one easy-to-read typeface and another with rectangular characters that were hard to distinguish from each other. Between the easy-to-read and harder-to-red texts, there was an 11 percent in glance time – time when attention is taken away from looking ahead. This difference is the same as traveling 50 feet at highway speed.

The study was conducted by researchers at the New England University Transportation Center and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

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