Driving Distractions You Are Not Aware Of - Preventing Distracted DrivingUpdated Dec. 16, 2020
There are countless minor tasks that we engage in on a day-to-day basis without thinking, which could prove to be dangerous distractions while driving. You may not think twice about smoking, allowing your mind to wander, swatting away a bug or picking up a dropped object while you’re walking down the street, but you must avoid these activities as much as possible while behind the wheel.
Remember that driving is a far more mentally and physically strenuous activity than walking or sitting at a desk. It may only take one minor movement or cognitive distraction to tip the balance and cause you to lose control of the vehicle. The consequences of losing control or failing to spot a danger are considerably more severe while driving too! If these things occur while you’re walking along a sidewalk, the worst-case scenario might be tripping, stumbling or bumping into something. Mistakes made behind the wheel cost lives.
Smoking while driving
Smoking can kill you – in more ways than one! We all know that smoking damages the heart, lungs, brain and various other vital organs. It can lead to premature death through cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Not only that, smoking could cause you to have a fatal collision. The physical act of smoking is a distraction you cannot afford while driving. Plus, the intoxicating effects of tobacco smoke can impair your senses, slow your reaction time and impede your judgment. If you must endanger your health by smoking, do not do so behind the wheel.
The entire time you are smoking a cigarette, one of your hands will not be properly placed on the steering wheel. This could stretch on for many minutes at a time! Of course, there is also the distraction caused by finding and lighting your cigarette in the first place. You may have to reach into your purse, rummage around in the glove compartment and take your gaze away from the road.
Most smokers take the cognitive and physical effects of smoking for granted. Nicotine is a known nervous system stimulant that can cause restlessness, compulsive movement, shaking, anxiety and general nervousness, not to mention nausea and mental fog. Dealing with any of these impairments while driving would be incredibly dangerous.
Daydreaming or allowing your mind to wander while behind the wheel is one of the only driving distractions which does not involve physical action. As such, we tend to assume it is less dangerous than other distracting activities. In fact, daydreaming is an extremely deadly driver distraction.
While daydreaming, a driver can maintain control of their vehicle and engage in proper visual search strategies. However, they will not be able to effectively absorb visual information or make sensible driving decisions while their conscious mind is elsewhere. Vital changes to the roadway environment will go unnoticed and you may be totally oblivious to hazards if you are not mentally engaged with the driving task.
Daydreaming poses a particular threat to road user safety as drivers often do not notice they are doing it. Physical distractions are easier to spot and keep in check, as they usually involve moving your body or taking one hand off the steering wheel. On the other hand, a wandering mind may go unnoticed for quite some time!
While driving, it is your responsibility to keep your mind focused on the task at hand. Avoid thinking about school work, social events, relationships, worries and anything else which will take your attention away from the road. If you notice yourself becoming distracted, try opening a window or switching on the radio to refocus your mind on the driving task.
Sneezing is an involuntary response that is practically impossible to suppress. At some point, all motorists will be caught out by a sneeze while driving. When you sneeze, your body may lurch forward, and your eyes will momentarily shut. This will impair your ability to see hazards and could cause an involuntary movement that affects your control of the car.
Do not panic if you can feel a sneeze coming on while you’re behind the wheel. Instead, try to move to a safe lane position and increase your following distance to reduce the chances of a collision occurring when you sneeze. It is best not to drive at all if you are suffering with a cold or serious allergy which may lead to persistent sneezing. If a sneezing fit sets in while you’re driving, find the next safe spot to pull over until it passes.
It is important to keep the inside of your car as clean and clutter-free as possible, as any loose objects in the vehicle may distract you while you’re driving. In addition to being distracting, loose objects can present real danger if the movement of the vehicle causes them to shift into an unsafe place. For instance:
- An item on your dashboard may slide into a position where it partially obscures your view of the road.
- An object in the footwell or on your seat could move and become wedged underneath the brake or accelerator pedal.
- Clutter on or around essential in-car controls could prevent you from gauging speed, signaling or making a maneuver.
Aside from these risks, loose objects can be an unnecessary temptation when you’re driving. If your cell phone, purse or organizer are within reach, you may give in to the desire to check them out while you’re behind the wheel. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics indicate that reaching for an object inside your car leads to a nine-times greater chance of experiencing a collision or near-collision.
Insects inside your car
Driving with a flying insect buzzing around inside your car can be dangerous. If the bug is near your head or crosses your line of sight, you can easily become distracted and miss important events on the roadway.
While you should try and get rid of the insect, do not attempt to swat it with your hand or another object, as this will take your attention away from the road for longer. Instead, roll down the window to let the insect out or if that fails, pull over at the next safe opportunity. You can get back on the road as soon as the insect has left your vehicle.
All distractions are dangerous
There is no such thing as an acceptable level of distraction while you’re driving. Never forget the damage your car can do if it collides with something or veers out of control. To be a responsible and attentive driver, you must keep temptations like your cell phone, cigarettes and other distracting objects well out of arm's reach while you’re driving. Before you set off, check around the vehicle to ensure there are no loose objects, insects or other potential driving distractions that could avert your attention from the road while the vehicle is moving.
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