The Vigilant Driver
Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving 2022: Statistics, Prevention, Attentive Driver's Habits

Updated Nov. 30, 2021

An essential part of your driver’s education program is learning what it means to be an attentive driver or a distracted driver. Safe drivers are attentive. By paying attention to the roadway and their own actions inside the vehicle, attentive drivers can use their vehicle control skills and knowledge of road rules appropriately, to avoid conflict with other road users, accidents and collisions. When a driver is fully engaged with the act of driving and everything it entails, they benefit from better hazard perception, faster, more precise reactions and the foresight to avoid potentially dangerous situations before they come to pose an actual threat. Being attentive is the essence of defensive driving and is a skill - like any other driving technique - which must be nurtured.

Distracted driving stands in opposition to attentive driving. In this context, the word “distraction” describes any object, situation or mental state which prevents a driver from being attentive to the roadway. One study on the subject describes driver distraction as “a diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving, towards a competing activity.” So, if you’re thinking about what you’re having for lunch, texting on your cell, checking your lipstick or admiring somebody walking on the sidewalk while driving, you are suffering from driver distraction. You may think that it is possible to do these things while also driving safely, but the truth of the matter is that the human brain only has so much attention to give. If even a small part of your mind is taken up with a non-essential activity, you will have less “attention reserves” left for driving and will be more susceptible to making mistakes and failing to spot dangers.

Distracted driving is dangerous and often deadly. Every day, approximately 9 people are killed and 1000 injured as a result of distracted driving. In 2015, this amounted to 3,477 deaths in the United States. Worryingly, these are conservative estimates. It is likely that many thousands more fatal traffic accidents involved some form of driver distraction. Unless one of the drivers involved comes forward and admits to daydreaming, using their cell phone or being distracted in some other way, it can be difficult to know whether distraction played a part in the incident.

Driver distraction in modern times

It is more important now than ever before that young, novice drivers understand the dangers of distracted driving and train themselves to be attentive behind the wheel. We are more susceptible to distraction now, as modern vehicles feature automated systems that require less driver engagement, making it easier for the mind to wander away from driving-related tasks. Cell phones, tablets, GPS systems and other technological advancements also add to the problem, providing dangerous distractions during the daily commute to work or school. Add to these issues the fact that modern drivers are busier, more tired and heavily preoccupied with their studies, careers and everyday stresses than drivers of the past, and we have the ideal conditions for driver distraction to occur.

How to be an attentive driver

During the first section of this module, we explore the attitude, skills and strategies you will need to shape yourself into an attentive driver, starting with a discussion about why paying attention to the roadway is so important. Experts now understand attentiveness to be the single most essential attribute a driver can possess. Vehicle control skills and road-rule knowledge mean nothing without attentiveness, as you will not be able to choose an action or maneuver that is safe and appropriate for current roadway conditions. What is right in one situation may increase risk in another.

Good vision and the ability to use that vision effectively is essential to the attentive driver. These issues are covered at length in the first half of this section. You will learn precisely how your brain works with the visual information it receives while driving, to form conclusions and make safe driving decisions. A driver can optimize this process by adopting methodical visual search strategies while behind the wheel. Visual searching involves picking a target point on the roadway up ahead and alternating your attention between that spot and closer points along your path of travel, to ensure you absorb the maximum amount of visual information about the roadway. Your ability to make safe driving decisions improves, the more information you have to work with.

The speed at which you are traveling and the space around your vehicle affect your ability to be attentive while driving. It is essential to leave enough space between yourself and the vehicle you are following, to make sure you can see along your path of travel and will have enough time to avoid a collision if something unexpected happens. The faster you are traveling, the harder it will be to see what is going on around your vehicle and the larger your following distance must be. Setting an appropriate speed and following distance is easier than it sounds! We’ll talk you through it in the later modules of “The Vigilant Driver”.

Every driver must choose to be attentive by paying attention to the roadway and focusing on the task at hand. You will encounter distractions, but it is up to you whether you allow them to impair your driving ability or alternatively, push them to one side and get your mind back on the job. Learning to deal with distractions is a vital stepping-stone in becoming an attentive driver.

How to deal with distractions

Part two of this module kicks-off with a more detailed explanation of what “distracted driving” means and why it is such a dangerous phenomenon. At the heart of the issue is the common misconception that human beings are capable of managing multiple activities at the same time, without compromising on performance. This is why so many drivers allow their minds to wander or check their cell phones behind the wheel – they do not truly believe that their driving ability will suffer as a result. Well, the information in this section will show you that it absolutely DOES suffer. In becoming distracted, you are weighing the scales in favor of crashes, collisions, property damage, fines, penalties, injury and death. Remember that driving is dangerous enough already, without the odds being stacked against you.

Following on from the risks of driver distraction, we analyze some of the most common distractions to see what impact they will have on your driving. The top offending distractions are:

  1. Texting or talking on a cell phone
  2. Other multimedia devices and non-essential in-car systems
  3. Listening to music
  4. Map reading or navigating with a GPS
  5. Eating and drinking
  6. Personal grooming activities
  7. Passengers
  8. Roadway situations (such as collisions, advertisements, objects on or near the road, pedestrians, scenery and other road users)

Driver distractions can largely be prevented with a little bit of forward-thinking. Switching your cell phone off, making sure you are not hungry, applying make-up before leaving the house and programming your GPS prior to setting off are all easy-to-adopt distraction-prevention strategies. Of course, there are some distractions over which you have less control. For example, you cannot necessarily predict when a passenger will behave in a distracting way, or when you might need to sneeze. Luckily, not being able to prevent these distractions from occurring does not mean you are completely at their mercy! Our course will teach you how to deal with unexpected driver distractions quickly, effectively and safely.

Protecting yourself against distracted drivers

Part of being a safe and attentive driver is knowing how to spot other distracted drivers. They are out there on every road, in every town, in every state. All other vehicles on a roadway are potential hazards, though a distracted driver nearby often represents immediate danger. While distracted, a driver may fail to yield the right-of-way, meander out of their lane, drive at an unsafe speed or miss important traffic signals. How the other motorists around that driver behave will play a big part in determining whether their distracted driving results in a collision, or not. You will learn how to identify distracted motorists and mitigate the risk they present, in the final section of this block.

Forming attentive driving habits

Habits are powerful and difficult to break. From the very moment you get behind the wheel and start learning to drive, you must commit to driving in a focused and attentive way. Attentiveness is not a skill you can easily add to your driving repertoire further down the line, as by then, you may have formed bad driving habits that lead to distraction and loss of focus. Keep in mind that forming positive habits is simpler when you do not have to undo bad habits first.

To become a safe and responsible driver, you must start as you mean to go on. You will be less at risk on the roads and your learning journey will be easier. When you’re ready, the next article in this block will introduce you to the concept of becoming an attentive driver. Let’s find out what it takes!

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