Distracted Driving Awareness: Assessing the Situation and Minimizing the Risks

Driver eats and drinks at the wheel
Distracted driving behavior is killing us. But this begs the question: is it distraction-free driving even possible? Or is the question more one of distracted driving awareness?

Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention off your driving, and increases your risk for a crash. That distraction may be visual, manual, or cognitive. In other words, if it takes your eyes, hands, or mind away from your driving and the road, it’s bad. It causes accidents on the road. Distracted driving kills. It increases your risk for collision 29 times!

Some common examples of distracted driving include driving while eating, talking to other passengers, and answering your phone, even with Bluetooth technology. These are the everyday things we do that may constitute distracting driving.

This being the case, how can we fight distracted driving? It would seem to be Mission Impossible. Of course we’re going to talk to other passengers or reprimand our children in the backseat. There’s no question that we’ll sip on a travel cup of coffee. What then is there to fight? Are we to turn into robots who simply drive and have no thoughts?

Distracted Driving Kills

It’s clear that this would not and cannot happen—that we will never be robots. We are people with thoughts and feelings. This makes it technically impossible for us to focus on the driving alone. Better then, to focus on our awareness of distracted driving, to understand that distracted driving is, indeed, a problem. One that kills.

Once we accept the premise, you might say that tackling the problem is a matter of degree. That some distracted driving behaviors are worse than others. Then you can work toward avoiding or minimizing the distraction, as much as you can.

Distracted Driving Behavior: Eating and Drinking

That means that if you’re hungry, think about the least distracting way to sate your hunger. If you can pull over to eat and drink, great! But if you’re going to eat and drive, make it as distraction-free as possible. Eat something easy like a mozzarella string cheese or an apple slice rather than a bowl of hot chili. (Not to mention jelly donuts, which are a squirting accident, just waiting to happen.)

In other words, think about what you’re going to eat and drink while driving. Eat something that uses less of your attention and your hands, something you don’t need to look at. (Don’t eat a jelly-donut. Lather, rinse, repeat.)

Distracted Driving Risk: Yelling at the Kids

Smug little girl after torturing sibling in backseat of car

Don’t yell at your squabbling kids in the backseat. Instead, distract them from their squabble in a peaceful way. This takes less of your energy and focus from your driving, compared to turning around and yelling at them.

Learn peaceful parenting techniques. You might speak to them in a quiet voice, which forces kids to lower their own voices to hear you. Another peaceful parenting technique is to distract the kids with a question that effectively changes the subject. That could be something as simple as, “What day of the week is it? Do either of you remember?”

Finally, in getting kids to behave, there’s always the old standby of putting on some media for the kids to enjoy (wait for a traffic light). That could be a radio station they like, or a particular CD. (They can’t yell if they’re singing along.)

Distracted Driving Source: Your Phone

irresponsible texting driver

Using your mobile phone or device is the most dangerous of all distracted driving behaviors, as you might have guessed. We check social media, schedule appointments, and text our families while on the road, all the time. You might be inching through traffic, and think you’re safe enough to send a quick note to your spouse to keep your dinner warm. Or you might be stopped at a traffic light, and check your Facebook notifications. These are all examples of distracted driving behaviors that use your eyes, hands, and mind, all at the same time.

Keep phone use to a minimum, and if you must take calls, you must use hands-free technology. No texting while inching through traffic. No checking Facebook comments. It’s too dangerous to risk. Not just for you but for your passengers and others on the road.

Distracted Driving No-No: Applying Makeup??

woman applies mascara in Tesla autonomous self driving car
This woman isn’t really driving. She’s in a Tesla, autonomous (self-driving) car.

There are many other types of distracted driving behaviors, for instance applying makeup, or how about blowing your nose?? Some behaviors can and should be avoided, at all costs. You don’t need to put on makeup while you are driving, even to save time. But it’s kind of difficult to let your nose drip in your lap without wanting to put a tissue to your face.

The issue of distracted driving is one that teens should be made aware of, as they begin to drive. Our young people are particularly hard hit by the risks of distracted driving. It’s difficult, for instance, for teens to stay off their phones. All parents should be discussing with their teenagers, the issue and risks of distracted driving, on an ongoing basis.

As a driver, being aware of the risks of distracted driving means always assessing the situation and making a decision about a particular behavior. The decisions you make should serve to avoid the distraction wherever possible, or to at least minimize the risk as much as you can. In other words, if you can wait to do whatever it is at a time when you’re not driving, you should. If you can’t avoid the distraction, make it as distraction-free as possible.

If you’ve read this far–congratulations–you are now more aware than ever of the issues of distracted driving behavior. Here’s to staying safe on the road. And keeping others safe, too!



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