Skip to Main Content

Distracted driving

Who doesn't have a cell phone these days? How about an iPad, laptop, gaming device, or GPS? They are an important part of many people's lives. Yet, they are very dangerous if used while driving.

Here are a few facts to help understand the challenge of distracted driving:

  • 3,166 – number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes by distracted driving in 2017
  • 297 – number of people who died in crashes that involved distracted teen (15 to 19) drivers
  • 2.9 – percentage of drivers using handheld cell phones in 2017, down from 3.3% in 2016
  • 5 – number of seconds your eyes are off the road when sending or reading a text (at 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed)
  • 9 – percentage of fatal crashes in 2017 reported as distraction-affected crashes,
  • 599 – non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) killed in distraction-affected crashes
  • 401 – number of fatal crashes reported to have involved cell phone use as a distraction (14% of all fatal distraction-affected crashes)

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, adjusting the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.

With more portable technology now than ever before, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented numbers. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day, and those desires do not stop just because people get behind the wheel.

Drivers simply do not realize the dangers that are posed when they take their eyes and minds off the road, their hands off the wheel, and focus on activities other than driving. The situation is really very simple: drivers can't do two things at once.

Main types of driving distractions

Human factor experts tell us there are basically four kinds of driving distractions:

  • Visual - when you take your eyes off the road while dialing, reading and sending text messages, eating, finding a song on your device, or doing any number of other tasks
  • Manual - often associated with a visual distraction, a biomechanical distraction would be manipulating a control such as; dialing a phone or adjusting a radio, opening a bag of chips, or trying to settle a child or pet
  • Auditory - an example of an auditory distraction would be being startled by a ringing phone,
  • Cognitive - when you become “lost in thought” or focused on a conversation with someone which causes you to withdraw from situational awareness, e.g., the common experience of traveling from point A to point B and suddenly realizing that you are not sure how you got there or what happened in between.

Some people think hands-free devices are a solution. While they help, they aren't a complete solution. Researchers are beginning to obtain evidence that shifting from handheld to hands-free phone use while driving does not result in eliminating all cell phone distractions. It addresses the visual and mechanical distractions but does not address auditory and cognitive issues.

What activities cause problems?

Here are just a few of the many activities that are known to distract drivers:

  • Making or answering phone calls
  • Sending or reading text messages
  • Locating a song on a playlist
  • Eating or drinking
  • Reaching or leaning (often to get a phone or other device)
  • Talking to others in the car
  • Grooming
  • Attending to children

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 28% of all crashes—that's 1.6 million each year—are caused by drivers using their handheld or hands-free cell phones and drivers' texting while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that they receive more complaints and requests for information about cell phone use than any other driving issue.

Currently, OSHA does not have specific regulations regarding distracted driving. However, OSHA may apply its “General Duty” clause to distracted driving. The General Duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires an employer to furnish to its employees “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

Tips for avoiding distracted driving accidents

When you drive, avoid any activity that might distract you from your main responsibility of operating the vehicle:

  • Pull over before using devices. The best advice is to pull off the road and stop the vehicle.
  • Keep your hands on the wheel. Buckle your seatbelt and place both hands on the steering wheel.
  • Keep your eyes on the road. Learn how to operate your digital equipment without looking at it. Memorize the location of all the controls so you can press the buttons you need without ever taking your eyes off the road.
  • Practice off-road. If your device is new, practice using it and the voicemail feature while your car is stopped. Practice will make you feel more comfortable—and safe—when using it on the road.
  • Use a hands-free model. A hands-free unit lets you keep both hands on the wheel while you talk on the phone.
  • Stay in your lane. Don’t get so wrapped up in a conversation that you drift into the other lane. Pull into the right-hand lane while talking so you only have to worry about traffic to the left.
  • Use speed dialing. Program frequently called numbers and your local emergency number into the speed dial feature of your phone for easy, one-touch dialing.
  • Take a message. Let your voice mail pick up your calls in tricky driving situations. It’s easy to retrieve your messages later on.
  • Don’t try to get your device when it’s out of reach. If you keep your device in your briefcase or purse, do not attempt to retrieve it while driving.
  • Know when to stop talking. Keep conversations brief so you can concentrate on your driving. If driving becomes hazardous, end your call and continue later.
  • Keep the phone in its holder. Make sure your phone is securely in its holder so it won’t pop out and distract you when you are driving.
  • Don’t take notes while driving. If you need to write something down, use a recorder or electronic scratch pad or pull off the road.
  • Drive defensively. You must be prepared for the unsafe actions of other motorists or for poor driving conditions.

By: Mike Huss
Loss Control Consultant


Business & Legal Reports, Inc. (BLR), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), National Safety Council (NSC).