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on Your Smartphone

A young woman puts on lipstick in the drivers seat while holding her cell phone with her shoulder.
Applying makeup while driving is a common distraction.

We live in a world with constant distractions, including while we are driving. Smartphones not only consume our attention while we work or at home, but also behind the wheel. Starting September 1, 2017 in Texas, it will be illegal to text and drive.

Campaigns are also in place by several organizations nationwide and major cell phone providers to send a constant reminder that using a phone while driving leads to injuries and fatalities.

Types of distractions

There is a long list of what can distract a driver, but there are only three types of distraction that interfere with concentration – cognitive, visual, and manual. An example of a manual distraction would be a driver removing hands from the steering wheel. Cognitive distractions take the driver’s mental focus elsewhere and visual takes the driver’s eyes off of the road.

Other actions that keep someone from focusing solely on driving include changing the radio station, looking at a map, talking on the phone or to others in the car, and eating. A recent survey showed that more than 60 percent say they have watched a driver apply makeup while driving, more than 50 percent witnessed someone reading, and more than 20 percent have seen a driver take a selfie while behind the wheel.

Although these tasks were not high scoring in the survey, people also witnessed drivers putting in contacts, flossing teeth, and actually putting on a costume.

Real Risks

Action shot of a red/orange car crashes into the back of a small yellow car.
Distracted driving causes severe crashes.

A few seconds of a distraction behind the wheel can be deadly. Nationwide, there were 3,477 people who died in accidents in 2015 that were caused by a distracted driver. Since distractions can be anything and everything other than focusing on the road, it’s difficult to prevent.

How to drive safer

Most distractions are preventable. It starts with the driver making a conscious effort to focus only on driving.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make seat, mirror, GPS, and radio adjustments when you get into the vehicle, before you drive.
  • Put your phone on silent and out of reach. Taking the temptation away from your immediate access will force you to wait to check it until later.
  • Use hands-free features on your phone if you must make a call.
  • Finish grooming/dressing before getting into your car. Running late isn’t an excuse: It’s better to arrive late than not at all.
  • Eat before you drive. If you must take food with you on the road, choose snacks that are easy to manage with one hand and easy to contain.
  • Get your passengers to help you out. If they’re being distracting, ask them to quit the behavior causing the distraction. If you want to check something, change the radio station, navigation, etc. enlist the help of your passenger instead of doing it yourself.
  • Find a noise background that helps you focus. For some people, this could be ambient music. It could be listening to an engaging podcast for others. It could be simulated background noise like rain or white noise. Figure out what audio distracts you and what engages your focus.

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What you didn't know about distracted driving
What you didn't know about distracted driving
Driving takes focus and distractions are proven to lead to serious accidents. Here's what you can do to avoid distracted driving.

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