Distracted driving is such a deadly crisis that there’s an entire month dedicated to preventing it. Every April, the National Safety Council and other orgs participate in educating people on ways to recognize and eliminate preventable deaths from distracted driving — so let’s all do our part, too.
According to a nationwide census of fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes, more than 65,000 people were killed in car crashes in a two-year period. Of those, one in ten involved at least one distracted driver.
“Distracted” driving means the person behind the wheel is engaging in some kind of activity that diverts their attention from the road, and experts believe about 12% of distracted drivers are focusing on their phones at the time of deadly accidents. But if just a sliver of drivers are suspected of talking, listening, texting, or dialing at the time of a crash, what else is messing with drivers’ focus?
Research shows that everything from in-dash navigation and music apps to food choices and even your imagination can threaten to derail your attention. The good news is, knowing the common concentration traps can help you sharpen your focus behind the wheel.
Added bonus: being a safe driver can help your insurance rates. Distracted driving not only puts your safety and the safety of others at risk, it also has the potential to drive up your insurance rates. According to The Zebra’s 2018 Distracted Driving Report, being ticketed for texting or using your cell phone while driving can raise your rates by 16% — about $226 — per year.
Here are strategies for combating three of the biggest concentration-hijacking culprits so you can stay safe on the road:
The distraction: Daydreaming. This one’s hard to stomach, but it’s true — according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 62% of distracted drivers “were generally distracted, inattentive, or ‘lost in thought,’” otherwise known as “daydreaming.”
The solution: While there’s certainly no way to turn your mind off (thankfully), there are ways you can keep your brain alert, even on the most monotonous routes. A few ideas from Popular Mechanics: keep your eyes moving every few seconds to avoid mind wandering, chew some gum or find some crunchy snacks to keep you in the present moment, and stay on your toes by imagining “what-if” scenarios (i.e. what you would do if an oncoming car unexpectedly crossed into your lane, etc.). Another way to avoid boredom-induced mind-wandering: experiment with different routes to stay engaged.
The distraction: Sleepiness. We can’t really control our mind’s natural inclination to wander, but we can control how much rest we’re getting. Drowsy driving is no joke — sleep deprivation can have similar effects on the body as alcohol. And you don’t have to be clocking zero hours to qualify as “sleep deprived” — research shows that getting less than five hours is the same as driving drunk.
The solution: Do your best to get some sleep before you get behind the wheel. Sometimes it can be hard to gauge just how tired you are when you’re in the middle of a long drive, but there are telltale signs that you need to remove yourself from the road, such as trouble focusing, heavy eyelids, an inability to remember the last bit of road you drove. constant yawning, drifting lanes, and/or bobbing your head.
So what do you do if you’re en route and start to feel sleepy? If you’re driving solo and don’t have a passenger to take over, find the nearest safe spot to take a break and get rejuvenated — even if it’s just to hit a coffee shop or make a gas stop. Need a longer break? Try an app like DayUse to find a discounted nap destination.
The distraction: Eating, drinking, or smoking. According to the same research, a percentage of distracted drivers were paying more attention to their food, drinks, cigarettes, or other similar non-driving-related items when they should have been fully focused on the road.
The solution: The easy fix is to eliminate all these activities in the car. Yes, we mentioned that crunchy snacks might help you stay alert, and hydration is important (can’t speak on how essential that smoking habit is, though). But chowing down on a full meal or futzing with a beverage while navigating the road is another story. Do your best to eat meals outside of the car, and limit non-driving related actions that require even some hand-eye coordination.