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Tips to Reduce Distracted Driving

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As advancing technology lets us do more with our time in the car, driver distraction is a growing concern. At Crutchfield, we want to help you use and enjoy the fun car audio/video gear we sell. And we want you to stay safe while using it on the go.

Distracted Driver

In this article, we've compiled a list of common-sense tips to help manage distractions while you're on the road. First, let's talk more about the issue of distraction.

What is distracted driving?

In simple terms, distracted driving is multi-tasking behind the wheel. On the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) distracted driving website (distraction.gov), they define distracted driving as any non-driving activity a person engages in while operating a motor vehicle.

According to the NHTSA, there are three types of distraction:

  1. Visual — taking your eyes off the road.
  2. Manual — taking your hands off the wheel.
  3. Cognitive — taking your mind off what you are doing.

You know that heart pounding moment when you swerve to stay on the road or avoid a collision? Safety experts say that multi-tasking while driving causes slower reaction times, and increases your chances of getting into a collision. A 2008 study done at Carnegie Mellon University used brain imaging to show how multi-tasking in the car impairs essential cognitive processes, so less of the brain is available to focus on the primary task of driving.

Hands-free talking can help

Drivers talking or texting on a cell phone is currently an important issue for many local lawmakers because it involves all three kinds of distraction (visual, manual, and cognitive). This makes cell phone conversations and use among the most distracting behaviors people engage in behind the wheel. Many states have enacted laws requiring headsets or hands-free technology — see our article Understanding Cell Phone Laws to find out more.

Using a hands-free device gives you a boost in safety, but it doesn't completely eliminate all distractions associated with talking on a cell phone while driving. National Safety Council (NSC) studies reveal that hands-free drivers are still less likely to notice exits, red lights, stop signs, and other cues relevant to driving. So, you'll be able to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, but there's still a level of cognitive distraction involved.

Tips to help reduce distraction

Although it may not be possible to avoid every distraction completely, these strategies can help you minimize sources of distraction:

Before you roll

  • Set essential controls: Before you back out of your parking spot, queue up the playlist you want to hear, set climate controls to a comfortable level, and program any destinations into your GPS.
  • Review your route: When you're headed for an unfamiliar destination, review your directions and study your route ahead of time. Use Google Map's Street View to get a 3D look at your destination, so you'll have a mental picture to help you find your address.
  • Secure your pets: Keep your furry friends out of harm's way in a well ventilated crate or carrier, secured preferably in the backseat or hatchback. This way, you won't be tempted to feed or pet them while driving, and they'll stay protected in case of a collision.
  • Manage your time: Rushing tends to promote distraction, road rage, and taking unnecessary risks. Whenever possible, leave a few minutes early so you can arrive at your destination stress-free.
  • Prep at home: Get ready for work before getting in your car. Putting on deodorant, makeup, and shaving are much easier and safer when done in your own bathroom.

On the road

  • Drive thru, pull over: When you grab food on the go, take ten minutes to park and eat. You can use the time to check your messages, return some calls, or read the paper.
  • GPS adjustments: If you get lost, turned around, or need to make major changes to your route, find a safe place to pull off the road.
  • The buddy system: An adult passenger riding next to you can share your awareness of the driving situation, and actually reduce the risk of collision, according to the NSC. Make it a habit to stick with light conversation topics — a heated discussion can actually pull your attention away from the road.
  • Save it for later: Suspend phone conversations in heavy traffic and bad weather, even if you're using handsfree talking. You need your full attention on the road to anticipate and react to hazardous road conditions.
  • Spacing out: If you feel like your mind is wandering to some problem at work or at home, pull off the road and write it down or make a phone call. On long drives, take breaks to rest your eyes.

In the classroom

  • Take a refresher: Defensive driving classes, offered online or in-person, can teach you helpful safe-driving strategies and improve your awareness on the road. Some insurance companies even offer discounts to policyholders who complete courses.
Inevitably, you'll encounter other factors vying for your attention as you drive. The trick is to prioritize — ask yourself if it's worth taking your focus away from driving to attend to another task. Try envisioning a good friend or loved one — or even your high school Driver's Ed instructor — sitting next to you on the passenger side. Someone who'll remind you to trust your gut, use technology wisely, and enjoy the drive.
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