If you allow unnecessary distractions to take your mind off the road while you're driving, you're courting disaster.
Driving requires your full attention, says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
Even taking your eyes off the road for a few seconds can lead to an accident.
Unnecessary tasks involve "everything from fiddling with the radio to reaching into the back seat for your briefcase," says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
According to Distraction.gov, a public education website created by the federal government, 3,328 people were killed in U.S. distraction-related car accidents in 2012. About 421,000 people were injured that year in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Here are five unnecessary distractions you should avoid whenever you drive.
There are many reasons not to send texts on mobile devices while you drive, says Bruce Hamilton, manager of research and communications for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Texting takes your eyes of the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off the task of driving. It requires so much of your attention that it makes it impossible to drive safely.
Distraction.gov reports that the average time you take your eyes off the road while texting is five seconds. That may not seem like much time, but if you're traveling at 55 mph, "you can travel the length of a football field," Hamilton explains.
An April 2013 Erie Insurance study found that 12 percent of fatal crashes involved cell phone use, which includes talking, listening, dialing or texting.
If you feel you must send a text or respond to one while you are driving, pull off the road.
In their review of the FARS database, Erie's researchers found that daydreaming was the top distraction cited in police investigations, factoring into 62 percent of fatal distracted driving crashes.
Whenever you allow yourself to daydream, it takes your mind off what you're doing, Hamilton says. If fatigue is making it hard for you to concentrate, pull off the road for a rest.
"The human brain does not divide attention very well," says David Teater, senior director for transportation initiatives at the National Safety Council. "(While driving) we could be looking straight ahead but not seeing things because our mind is somewhere else."
3. Driving with unrestrained pets.
Allowing pets to roam free in your car can be highly distracting. In July 2011, AAA and Kurgo, a pet products manufacturer, released the results of an online survey of 1,000 dog owners who had driven with their pets during the previous year.
The survey found that only 16 percent of the participants use pet restraints designed to hold dogs in place. Fifty-two percent had petted their dogs while driving and 23 percent said they had used their hands or arms to hold dogs in place while applying the brakes.
Allowing your pet to roam free in your car can cause injuries to you as well as to the animal. According to AAA, an unrestrained 10-pound animal will exert about 300 pounds of pressure during a 30-mph crash.
4. Personal grooming.
While cars aren't personal dressing rooms, they're often treated that way.
It's not uncommon to see drivers combing their hair or applying makeup while gazing into their rearview mirrors.
In August 2014, the Yakima Herald Republic newspaper reported that a woman in central Washington rear-ended another vehicle while she was applying makeup. The woman was cited for negligent driving.
This distraction can be easily avoided if you give yourself plenty of time to take care of your personal appearance before you get into your car or wait until after you've parked at your destination to check your appearance.
Mary Bonelli, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Ohio Insurance Institute, said one of the most common driving distractions is eating.
It's hard to keep your mind on the road when you're unwrapping a hamburger or trying to mop up a spilled soft drink with napkins, she adds. The solution is to eat before you leave home or wait until you reach your destination.
It's easy to schedule your meals so they don't conflict with your driving. If you're too hungry to delay eating until you reach your destination, "simply pull over," Bonelli says.
You'll enjoy your meal more if you don't have to worry about keeping your eyes and your mind on the road while juggling snacks.
The analysis of FARS data showed that eating while driving accounted for 2 percent of fatal crashes that involved distracted driving.