Put distractions in the ‘back seat’ and stay focused on the road

April 19, 2021 Swedish Health Team

Distracted driving is a serious public health threat. Every year, it causes thousands of deaths and injuries.

  • Even the seemingly smallest distraction can pull your focus away from the road and increase your risk of a crash.
  • There are three types of distractions - visual, manual and cognitive.
  • Take the pledge to be a safe driver and make small changes to keep you, your passengers and others safe.

[4 MIN READ]

You’re driving down the road, focused on traffic around you and any upcoming traffic lights. Then, you hear it: The ping of your phone letting you know you got a text. Suddenly, your mind is in two places at once: on the road in front of you and wondering who messaged you and what they might need. Does your hand shoot out so you can pick up your phone for a quick glance? Or did you already stow your phone away in the glove compartment before you hit the road?

Believe it or not, that quick glance; that split-second distraction is all that’s needed to pull your focus from the road to your phone. And it’s more than enough time to cause a crash.

Sending or reading a text at 55 mph is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. (CDC)

As scary as that might seem, that’s the reality. In fact, more than 2,800 people were killed in a crash involving a distracted driver in 2018 – one of the last years the CDC tracked crashes before COVID-19. Another 400,000 people were injured in distraction-related crashes that same year. And, now that more people are venturing out of their homes and on the roadways, it may be time to take a quick refresher on tips to reduce distractions.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Why it matters

Technology makes life easier, especially for driving: You can connect with friends and family with a push of a button. You can easily navigate to the places you need to visit. Technology can even help alert you to hazards on the road or notify you of cars in your blind spot. 

But does this technology really add up to a safer driving experience? Experts say that it all comes down to how - and when you use it.

This April, the National Safety Council, and community and non-profit organizations are joining forces to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and encourage drivers to use technology responsibly.

Types of distracted driving

When you think of distracted driving, you probably immediately picture your phone. But there are many other things that can pull your focus off the road, slow your reaction time and increase your risk of being involved in a crash.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines three types of distractions drivers might face:

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving

These types of distractions can come in many forms, including:

  • Texting
  • Talking on the phone (even if it’s Bluetooth)
  • Reading or sending an email
  • Interacting with touch screen navigation systems in the car
  • Selecting music on a device or your car’s radio
  • Using voice-to-text or voice commands to call a contact on your phone
  • Eating while driving
  • Distracting passengers (The biggest offenders? Babies, kids and teens.)

Fatal crashes dropped 21% among young drivers when no passengers were allowed and 7% lower with just one passenger. (CDC)

How to be a safe driver

Creating safer roads starts with each one of us. There are many easy steps we can take – and behaviors we can adopt – to help eliminate distractions and keep us better focused on the sights, sounds and surroundings when we’re behind the wheel.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Take the pledge. Make a promise to be a safe driver. Share your plan with other drivers in your family and encourage them to take the pledge, too.
  • Stow your phone. Silence your phone and put it out of reach whenever you get behind the wheel.
  • Pull over to talk or text. If you’re worried about missing an important phone call, find a safe place to park before responding to a text or calling someone back.
  • Set up navigation first. Get directions ready on your phone before you pull out of your driveway or back out of that parking spot.
  • Know – and follow – the law. In Washington, it’s illegal to hold a phone while driving, or send a text behind the wheel. New drivers and bus drivers are banned from using a cell phone at all when driving.
  • Hands-free isn’t always distraction-free. Talking on a cell phone. Dictating a text. Asking Siri to make a call. These are all activities that pull your attention away from the road, even though you’re not moving your hands off the steering wheel. 
  • Talk the talk and walk the walk. Model good behavior, especially when you have your children in the car. Not only are you keeping everyone safe, but you’re demonstrating healthy habits they’ll need when they start to drive. Start a conversation with them early about what’s safe to do behind the wheel and what’s not.

Drivers on their phones fail to see 50% of their surroundings. (National Safety Council)

These simple steps can ensure you and your passengers arrive at your destination safely and even influence other drivers to be more aware of their surroundings when behind the wheel.

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.

Related resources

Learn the Facts about Distracted Driving

Ending Distracted Driving is Everyone’s Responsibility

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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