Everyone has stories about mishaps that have occurred when driving while distracted. In a lot of cases these mishaps are minor, like the time I accidentally backed into a pole while trying to keep my four year-old from dripping ice cream all over the back seat. Luckily, I was moving slowly, so the pole was unharmed, no one was hurt, and there was nothing more than a minor ding on my rear bumper.
Unfortunately, distracted driving often causes more than just minor mishaps; in severe cases the effects can be deadly.
What is Distracted Driving?
In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on texting while driving. There are several national campaigns, like Don’t Text and Drive and It Can Wait, aimed at making people aware of the dangers of texting while driving. However, texting isn’t the only cause of distracted driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines distracted driving as anything that:
- Takes your eyes off the road;
- Takes your hands off the wheel; and
- Takes your mind off your driving.
This means that any activity that isn’t directly related to your driving can be a distraction, from checking out your kids in the rear view when it’s too suspiciously quiet in the back seat, to checking out that cute guy jogging down the street. It also includes things like rocking out to your favorite jams and going over to do lists in your head during rush-hour traffic. Texting is considered the most dangerous type of distracted driving because it generally involves all three activities.
The Penalties for Distracted Driving.
For many people, the penalties for distracted driving are minor. At worst, they will annoy other drivers but otherwise arrive at their destinations unharmed. But nearly 17 percent of accidents with injuries involve distracted driving, and more than 3,000 people were killed in accidents with distracted drivers.
In instances when an accident occurs, the penalties for driving while distracted are significantly steeper. In addition to the damage to the vehicle, the injuries, and the guilt of causing harm, there are also legal ramifications.
In some instances it could mean losing your license, losing your vehicle, and having to jump through hoops to reinstate your driving privileges. Some states require certain drivers to have SR-22 insurance, which is a guarantee of financial responsibility. While all specialty insurance costs aren’t extravagant, having an SR22 requirement can be problematic because they can last for several years. Also, if something happens and you lose your insurance, you will also lose your driving privileges and have to start all over again.
Preventing Distracted Driving
The best way to prevent distracted driving is to put your phone away until you reach your destination. If you need to use your phone, pull over, stop, and turn on your hazards so that people will be more aware that you have stopped for an extended period.
You should also try your best to put any problems or issues that are weighing on your mind on the back burner. Once you get into the car, it should be all about the driving.
Take special care if you are in a hurry or running late; it’s not unusual for people to forget to look out for other cars, and even pedestrians, while rushing to make a turn or change lanes.
Try to avoid eating in the car, digging around in your bag, or searching through your CD collection while you are on the road.
Driving with kids in the car can be problematic because, unless you bundle them up, they are probably going to do things that have you taking your mind, if not your eyes and your hands, off the road. However, the most important thing you can do is set rules and expectations for behavior in the car, as well as penalties for violating those rules. If you have video screens on your seat rests, you can also play a video to keep them occupied – just remember to provide earphones so that you are not distracted by the sound. Tablets and smart phones can also keep them quiet and occupied, so that you can focus on your driving.
Always remember that if you do have to take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off your driving, the best way to deal with it is to pull over, stop the car, and turn on your hazards.