Understanding & Preventing Distracted Driving
The radio plays your favourite song. You sing along, lightly drumming the steering wheel. You press the brake gently to stop at a red light. As you wait, you take a sip of coffee and take a look at your phone. You listen to an important voicemail as you drive off and finish your commute to work.
Any of these actions are seemingly normal habits you do while driving, perhaps even on a daily basis. Unfortunately these habits distract you more than you think. During any of these quick and simple activities—looking at your phone or drinking coffee—you are driving with the same level of impairment as someone with a blood alcohol content of .125. How does that translate in terms of your chances of crashing? Distracted driving is related to 80% of all crashes in Canada, and in turn, often causes insurance rates to drastically increase.
Read on to learn how distraction affects you while you’re driving and how you can prevent injuring yourself or others.
What Is Distracted Driving?
In the summer of 2014, news disseminated that Halifax police made driving and eating breakfast sandwiches illegal. Since about half of Canadians admit to eating behind the wheel, this news gained traction almost immediately. Fortunately for fast food and sandwich-serving purveyors, the new law was a hoax. The police chief who later publicly debunked the prank noted that this joke had a silver lining: it brought to light that distracted driving is not only a critical safety concern for people in Nova Scotia, but that distraction takes many forms.
Often we think of distracted driving as simply texting or talking on the phone. These well-known distractions are exceptionally detrimental to your driving abilities, increasing—by 4 times—the chance of crashing. However, activities like reading a map, fiddling with a GPS device and fixing your hair in the rearview mirror can all distract you just as much as texting or talking on the phone.
If you have been searching through an electronic portable device like an iPod or MP3 player to find a song, then you are not watching the road—even if it’s for a split second. The same goes for talking to passengers, petting your dog or addressing your children in the backseat. Fatigue is another contributing factor to distraction. These minor changes in attention keep you from fully focusing on driving.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, 80% of crashes and 65% near-crashes happen because the driver is distracted within 3 seconds of the incident. The following explains the types of distractions that drivers experience and who these distractions affect most.
Who Distraction Affects & Why
For drivers under 20 and drivers between the ages of 20 and 29, distractions cause 16% and 13%, respectively, of fatal crashes. Motorcyclists and light truck drivers are distracted more often than any other kind of driver according to Transport Canada. People between the ages of 30 and 39 are most likely to be distracted by their cell phones just before a fatal crash.
There are four kinds of distraction:
- Visual: distractions that take your eyes off the road, like a flashing billboard
- Auditory: distractions that take your focus off sounds of the road, like an ambulance siren
- Cognitive: distractions that take your mind off the road, like an emotionally upsetting situation
- Manual: distractions that take your hands off the road, like picking up a coffee cup
Multiple kinds of distraction can occur at once. Answering your phone arguably combines all 4 types of distraction. You hear the ring (auditory), look away to see who is calling (visual), reach down to get the phone (manual) and divert your attention to the conversation (cognitive).
Learn below how you can avoid these distractions.
How to Prevent Distracted Driving
Like the series of incidents at the beginning of our distracted driving explanation, sometimes you have a routine of fiddling or checking on things as you drive. Here are some tips to prevent distracted driving:
- Pull over when you need to make a call or send a text message.
- Eat before you get in the car, not while driving.
- Explain to passengers that the noise-level in the car needs to be low.
- Fix your music settings, mirrors and seating before you start the car.
- Make playlists in advance to avoid flipping through radio stations or iPod songs.
- Don’t reach for any fallen items.
- Secure pets in the back seat so they won’t move around and distract you.
- If children act up, pull over to talk with them about changing their behavior.
- Don’t look at maps or GPS devices. Listen to GPS directions or review directions before you leave.\
If you avoid distracted driving, you minimize your accident risk and, potentially, your car insurance rate. Thousands of Canadians are taking the Leave the Phone Alone pledge. You can join them by vowing never to text and drive at LeaveThePhoneAlone.ca.