Preventing Distracted Driving
Distracted Driving - Reading Behind The Wheel

Using Multimedia Devices and Reading Behind The Wheel - Distracted Driving

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

The risks associated with using a cell phone while driving also apply to laptops, computers, tablets and all other electronic devices. Most states with restrictions on cell phone use also account for these devices in their laws. We do not hear about tablets, laptops and mp3 players causing crashes as cell phones do, though this does not mean being distracted by these gadgets is not dangerous. All this tells us is that there are far fewer people tapping away on a computer while driving than there are using a cell phone. Taking your attention away from the road to engage in any non-driving related task is incredibly dangerous.

Always remember that the only thing you should be doing while sat in the driver’s seat is driving. This is no place to check your emails, check out a homework assignment or play games. Even operating a navigation device to look up an address or map out a route is an unacceptable distraction while driving. If you must do this, find a safe place to pull over first.

Unexpected electronic distractions

Using an electronic device that is built into your vehicle can be just as distracting and dangerous as using a portable device. The manufacturer may have equipped your vehicle with these devices but that does not mean they are designed to be operated by the driver while the vehicle is in motion.

Using any of the in-car devices listed below would require taking a hand off the steering wheel, your eyes off the road, your mind off the driving task or all the above.

  • Global positioning satellite (GPS) systems
  • Temperature controls
  • Dashboard display options
  • Seat adjustment levers
  • Mirror adjustment buttons
  • In-car video players

Before you set off on any journey, consider whether your seat needs to be adjusted, a target destination set on your GPS or any other action is required that does not immediately relate to the task of driving. Switch on the air con, adjust your mirrors and do anything else necessary prior to pulling out of your parking spot.

Obviously, some in-car devices may demand attention while you are driving. For instance, you may need to periodically glance at the screen of your GPS to make sure you are taking the correct route. Remember never to take your attention away from the roadway for more than half a second. Instead, alternate between the road and the task for as long as it takes to complete the action or gather necessary information.

Reading while driving

Distractions do not have to be digital to be dangerous. Incredibly, some motorists have such a false sense of their own safety and control over the situation that they will attempt to read books, magazines or maps while driving. This distraction tends to affect drivers in slow-moving traffic more than anywhere else. A mistake made in slow-moving traffic is unlikely to cost anybody their life, though it could still cause serious injury or property damage. The driver’s seat is not a place for reading while your vehicle is moving – no matter what type of driving environment you are in!

Navigating with a map

If you are driving on an unfamiliar route without the aid of GPS, it may sometimes be necessary to refer to a map during the journey. Reading place names and trying to find your location on a map takes a good deal of concentration and is not something you should attempt to do while driving. You may consult your map as often as you like along the way to your destination, though you must pull over to a safe spot before doing so. You will find what you are looking for on the map far more effectively and quickly by taking the time to stop.

Listening to the radio

Opinions are divided about whether listening to music while driving represents a dangerous distraction. Many people believe that music can aid a driver’s concentration, while others insist that it diverts attention away from the driving task.

One study carried out on the subject concluded that listening to music while driving was not detrimental to driving ability. In fact, the results showed that some test subjects drove more attentively while listening to music. While this certainly seems positive, it should not be overlooked that the study included only experienced motorists aged between 25 and 35 years-old. It is known that teenage drivers are more susceptible to the adverse effects of in-car distractions, so would the results have been as positive with a younger sample of participants?

Another study provides a probable answer to this question. This investigation focused solely on novice drivers aged between 17 and 18 years-old. Split into two groups, the teenagers were asked to follow an unfamiliar route while accompanied by a driving instructor whose task was to gauge their performance. The first group was allowed to play their own music, while the second was either given no music or attention-boosting music designed by the researchers to support safe driving. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results showed that the teen drivers who played their own music made considerably more mistakes than those in the second group. They also played their music at a much higher volume, which could have contributed to the problem.

Many experts believe that listening to loud, attention-grabbing music can be a serious distraction for all drivers, irrespective of their age and experience level. There are studies to support this idea too. One such investigation found that a driver’s reaction time can be slowed as much as 20 percent when they are listening to loud music.

So, should you listen to music while driving, or not? Making sensible decisions is the key to staying safe. No driver should listen to music at a loud or unnecessarily distracting level and if you are a novice driver, it may be better to avoid listening to music altogether while behind the wheel.

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Listening to Music Safely

Though listening to music behind the wheel is not necessarily dangerous and is definitely not illegal, you must be aware of the risks your car’s stereo system presents in order to make safe decisions. Drivers who constantly switch between radio stations, adjust the volume or play music loudly are more likely to become distracted and miss important details about the roadway environment.

Eating and Drinking While Driving Can Be Distracting
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Eating and Drinking While Driving

It is impossible to eat or drink without taking at least one hand off the steering wheel – this is time in which you will not be in complete control of your vehicle. A driver who is distracted by eating or drinking from an open container is 39 percent more likely to experience a collision or near-miss collision than an attentive driver.

Grooming While Driving Is Distracting
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Personal Grooming Behind the Wheel

Typical personal grooming activities require one or both hands be taken off the steering wheel, a degree of mental focus and the use of your eyes to see what you are doing. The safest thing to do is allow yourself a little extra time at home to complete your personal grooming routine before setting off.

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Interacting With Other Drivers

Without effective communication between motorists, it would be impossible to predict the movement of other vehicles and negotiate the roadway safely. Attentive, conscientious motorists think about how their actions will affect other drivers and endeavor to behave considerately, at all times. It is not simply a matter of being polite, it is a matter of safety.

Preventing Distracted Driving 1 of 13

Distracted Driving

While some distractions can be avoided, there is no way to remove all possible distractions from any driving environment. Therefore, we must know how to handle them safely when they occur.

Preventing Distracted Driving 2 of 13

The Risks of Distracted Driving

Any activity you engage in which does not immediately relate to the driving task is considered a distraction. This includes travel-related activities such as map reading or operating a navigation device. Irrespective of how important you may consider an activity to be, controlling your vehicle and monitoring the roadway demands your full attention and must take precedence.

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The Cognitive Basis of Distracted Driving

While we may often feel as if we are performing two or more tasks at the same time, we’re not, as the human brain is physically incapable of it. This means that you are only ever working on one task at a time. While driving and engaging in a distracting activity such as eating or combing your hair, your mind will not be focused on driving at all, for at least some of the time.

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Talking on The Cell Phone

Using a cell phone is one of the most risk-enhancing mistakes you can make while operating a moving vehicle. Many motorists assume that this only applies to hand-held cell phone use, though hands-free phone activity can be equally as dangerous.

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Texting on A Cell Phone

There is no driver distraction more dangerous than texting, emailing or sending any other written communication with an electronic device. While typing on a cell phone or similar device, you will be visually, manually and cognitively distracted from the task of driving.