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According to the CDC, approximately nine people are killed, and more than 1000 are injured in the United States in car accidents caused by distracted driving. Being distracted behind the wheel is one of the most dangerous things you can do — short of drinking and driving or falling asleep behind the wheel — but it is one thing that you can also avoid to make your driving safer.
What are the most common driving distractions and what can you do to avoid them? We’ve ranked the top nine distractions from most to least dangerous.
Surprisingly, cell phone use isn’t the most dangerous type of driving distraction. In roughly 62 percent of accidents attributed to distracted driving, the driver admitted to daydreaming, letting their mind wander or just generally being distracted. Either you get too comfortable with your car or your morning commute, or just let yourself zone out because you’re stuck in rush hour traffic. Whatever the reason, letting your mind wander is the most dangerous thing you can do behind the wheel.
You can avoid this by paying attention. Don’t get complacent, and keep your eyes and your mind on the road at all times.
Cell Phone Use
Using your cell phone might not be the worst thing you can do behind the wheel, but it is the second-worst of these evils. It doesn’t matter if you’re texting, picking a new song to play, making phone calls, taking pictures or sending a Snapchat — using your phone behind the wheel is a bad idea. In fact, 12 percent of distracted driving accidents are attributed to cell phone use.
Make it a point to stay off your phone while you’re driving. Put it in driving mode or airplane mode when you get in the car — this prevents any calls or texts from coming through while you’re behind the wheel. If you need some extra help, download an app to prevent you from using your phone. Most of these are designed for parents to keep their teen drivers from texting, but it can be just as useful for adults.
We get it — accidents happen, and we just have to see what’s going on when we’re driving by. Roughly seven percent of crashes are attributed to this trend of rubbernecking. Whatever is on the side of the road that’s grabbing your attention, it’s not as important as paying attention to where you’re going.
Ignore whatever has caught everyone else’s attention and be extra cautious while driving past these distractions. Remember, other drivers are probably just as distracted, so be careful to avoid any accidental collisions.
Carpooling is great for the environment, but it might not be great for staying undistracted behind the wheel. Roughly five percent of accidents are blamed on the passenger or passengers in the vehicle.
Set ground rules for anyone who rides with you in your car. No one can distract the driver. The risk might not be as high as some of the other problems on this list, but it’s still a concern you should keep in mind.
Other Electronic Devices
Just bringing your electronic devices into your car might not seem like a terrible thing, but if you reach for them, you’re at a higher risk of getting into an accident. Roughly two percent of distracted driving accidents happen merely because the driver was reaching for their phone, GPS, or music player.
Keep your electronic devices put away while you’re driving. For music, set up your playlist before you pull out of the driveway, and don’t touch the device again until you pull into the parking lot.
Eating and Drinking
Nearly every car on the road today has cup holders, and drive-thru restaurants make it extremely convenient to pick up breakfast on the way to work or stop for a quick bite during your far-too-short lunch break. Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a price — a higher risk of getting into an accident. Roughly two percent of crashes are attributed to eating or drinking in the car.
The best way to avoid this is only to eat or drink when you’re parked if you can’t avoid eating in the car. You don’t need to bypass drive-thru spots entirely — just wait to eat until you’ve reached your destination.
Customizing Your Car
Fiddling with your radio, climate control or seat warmer is one way to make your commute more comfortable, but it’s been found that you’re also putting yourself at risk for a car accident. Looking away from the road for even a few seconds to switch the radio station or turn down the air conditioning can lead to a crash. Roughly one percent of distracted driving accidents occur due to this.
Again, this is just like your other electronic devices. If you have to change something, do it before you start driving or after you’ve parked.
No one likes to find a spider in their car, but keeping your eyes on it instead of the road can be a lot more dangerous than a spider bite. While only one percent of accidents are attributed to distraction by animals, it may be an under-reported cause, likely because no one wants to admit that they crashed their car because of a spider.
The trick with these cases is to remain calm. If you’re worried because of the possibility of a spider bite or a wasp sting, pull off to the side of the road, deal with the intruding insect, then resume driving.
We already know smoking is a bad habit, but lighting up, smoking or putting out a cigarette while driving increases your risk of getting into an accident, too. Roughly one percent of distracted driving accidents are attributed to smoking-related activities.
The easiest way to avoid this is not to smoke, but if that isn’t possible, at least don’t smoke in the car. It isn’t a huge risk, but it is still a hazard. Anything you can do to lower your chance of getting into an accident is worth the hassle.
Distracted driving is one of the most significant problems on our roads today. By taking the time to pay more attention and removing distractions like cigarettes and cell phones, you can make the roadways safer for both you and other drivers.