An accident on the shoulder. A deer prancing down the side of the road. Your cell phone ringing. Your passenger asking you a question. These – and anything else that takes your attention away from the road — are examples of what has been coined "distracted driving."
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), distracted driving contributes to up to 8,000 car crashes per day. Drivers spend more than half their time behind the wheel in multitasking mode, whether it’s adjusting music volume, eating or, as was shown on a recent news program about teens and distracted driving, taking off one's shirt.
Perhaps only a teen would think disrobing while driving was acceptable, as teen brains are not fully mature, explained Joan Myers, lead instructor at Elite Driving School in Owings Mills, Md. "Teens have a tendency to be more distracted because of their inexperience. It goes with maturity level," she said. "You have this certain population that doesn’t think [multitasking while driving] is dangerous. They say, 'Sure, I can do more than one thing at a time.'"
One thing many teens — and other drivers — do behind the wheel is use a cell phone. A 2010 study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 26 percent of American teens of driving age have texted while driving, and almost half (48 percent) have been a passenger while a driver was texting. Sixty percent of teens in a 2010 AAA-Seventeen magazine survey admitted to talking on a cell while driving, even though they said they know the danger.
Teens are not the only drivers who drive while distracted. How can you reduce your own distracted driving? Here are some tips:
Always look where you want to go, said Myers. "If you see a distraction, you can't let it pull you off the road," she explained, adding "the car will go where your eyes go."
Turn off the cell phone while driving. "Some people recommend keeping it in your purse or the backseat, but that’s still a distraction because you can hear it," said Myers.
Make sure your passengers, especially children, have their snacks and entertainment at the ready, so you are not reaching behind you.
Eat, apply makeup and dress before you drive.
Assign a "designated texter," a passenger in the car to send and reply to texts and calls.
Read all maps before heading out, and, if you need to check directions, pull over.
If you are a parent — or have children or teens in the car — be aware that you are an example to them, said Myers. Many teens surveyed, both nationally and in her driving classes, have said their parents often text or talk on the phone while driving. "If the parents are going to text," she said, "the kids are going to do exactly what you do."
Teens — and all drivers — must have the confidence to tell their passengers to calm down and stop distracting them, Myers said. “They need to know if they take other people in their car, they have the lives of other people in their hands,” she added. “They have the duty to say to their friends, ‘If you’re going to act up in the car, I’m not going to be able to take you.’”