Types of Distracted Driving

With the growth of technology over the past decade or so, the conversation about distractions for drivers has seemingly started and ended with cell phones recently. Even though cell phones do play a large role, there are numbers of other distractions that have come into play for drivers for years.

Cell Phones

Most of the attention relating to distracted driving in recent years has involved the use of cell phones and with good reason. Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days and thus a risk for drivers is created. Phones today have so many different features such as e-mail, text messaging, internet browsing, game playing and music listening that can all end up becoming major distractions for drivers.

Leading Causes

Outside of the influence of cell phones, there are quite a few things that can lead to distracted driving. A recent study done by Virginia Commonwealth University revealed some surprising figures relating to roadside distractions. Things such as driver fatigue, looking into scenery and rubbernecking are seen as some of the biggest causes of distracted related traffic incidents today.

In VCU’s research, cell phones were rated as the sixth highest behavior relating to distracted driving. Rubbernecking, or looking at roadside accidents was the highest among behaviors. Looking at these accidents is one of the most frustrating things for drivers these days as they can not only spur other accidents but also slow down traffic and heighten risk for other drivers on the road.

While the research in Virginia reveals a different take on distracted driving causes, some of its findings are certainly applicable to roads throughout the country.

Other Causes

A true list of distractions for drivers could likely go on forever. Aside from cell phones, rubbernecking and looking at scenery, there are still plenty of major driving characteristics that can heighten risk for those behind the wheel, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Eating or drinking in the car remains one of the most talked about subjects outside of cell phones. Many people are on the go, grabbing food in their cars and trying to balance a meal while holding on to the wheel at the same time. This practice can be especially dangerous, as taking eyes off the road for any amount of extended time can be devastating. The time taken to organize food and looking where to grab before eating something is comparable to the amount of time one would look down to text message somebody, about three to five seconds at a time.

As mentioned, there are long lists of distractions that can be dangerous for drivers. Some of the other major types include adjusting vehicle controls, adjusting the radio, day dreaming, looking at a map and even focusing on an insect on the inside or outside of the automobile. 

Distracted Driving Comparisons 

Evidence is conflicting regarding the effect of cell phone usage when compared to other tasks. For instance, studies of subjects using driving simulators showed that phone conversations are far more disruptive than speaking to passengers or manipulating the radio dial. However, a conflation of statistical analyses shows that these tasks are an equal detriment to driving performance as cell phone usage.

Studies comparing cell phone usage to alcohol consumption showed that a phone conversation is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal threshold for driving while impaired. However, the level of impairment with alcohol typically extends throughout the duration of the drive, whereas cell phone usage is typically limited to a portion of the trip. In addition, although the effects are similar at the legal threshold, higher levels of blood alcohol content increase the risk substantially.

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