Distracted driving: it’s not just texting anymore

"Distracted driving" encompasses much more than just texting or talking on a cellphone.

For most of us, when we hear the phrase "distracted driving," the first thing to enter our heads is the image of someone texting or talking on a cellphone. We may envision someone with one hand on the wheel and one hand holding a phone, sending out a text message or typing in a phone number. We can perfectly picture their heads looking down at the screen instead of the road ahead. After all, this is the image of distracted driving from countless public service announcements and education campaigns since in-car cellphone use began in earnest years ago.

Make no mistake about it: texting behind the wheel is dangerous. Reading a single text message - never mind trying to actually compose one - takes the driver's attention away from the road ahead for an average of two seconds. At highway speeds, that's enough time to drive approximately the length of a football field, all while essentially blind to your surroundings.

Unfortunately, though, texting is not the only distracted driving behavior that puts safe drivers at risk. Today's modern vehicles are basically computers on wheels. They come with in-car "infotainment" systems with everything from audiobooks to music playlists and apps to messaging built right in. These systems themselves are exceedingly distracting, as they, too, pull the driver's attention away from the roadway and surrounding traffic (vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle alike).

Studies show that work is also at the forefront of our minds when we climb behind the wheel of a car, even as we're leaving the office. Answering emails while driving is inherently dangerous, but many of us admit to doing that just to avoid it when we get home.

Another exceedingly risky behavior that sounds relatively innocuous is programming or updating a GPS device. Taking the time to enter in coordinates before a journey starts may put you behind a few minutes, but at least you're more likely to arrive at your destination alive.

There are, of course, also "low-tech," "old school" distractions that are nonetheless dangerous:

  • Eating or drinking behind the wheel - that morning cup of coffee could be putting you at risk for an accident; finish it at home before you set out, or save it for when you get to work
  • Changing the vehicle's climate controls - try to do this when the vehicle isn't in motion so you aren't distracted and you don't need to look down from the road
  • Old-fashioned daydreaming or just not paying attention - we are often tempted to "zone out" while behind the wheel, but it's really the worst possible time to do it
  • Changing the music selection on the car's radio, or on an mp3 device or phone playlist
  • Queueing up an audio book - just do it while the car is still in your driveway, that way you get the most out of your journey

As you can see, there are myriad distractions in our vehicles that have nothing to do with texting or talking on a cellphone. Recognizing what these distractions are will hopefully help us avoid them. Sometimes, though, in spite of our best efforts to stay safe, we are injured in car accidents because of the reckless or negligent actions of other people. If you were hurt in a crash on a North Carolina roadway, contact the Fayetteville offices of Britton Law, P.A. Call them locally at 910-401-3356 or toll-free at 888-811-9738 , or send them an email to schedule a free initial consultation.