What is Distracted Driving?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Distracted driving is operation of a motor vehicle without paying close attention to the road, resulting in an increased risk of experiencing an accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States estimates that as many as 25% of crashes annually are the result of distracted driving. In some jurisdictions, the motor vehicle code specifically addresses this issue and people can receive fines and citations for driving while distracted. Repeat violations may result in a suspension of someone's license.

Someone texting while driving might be fined for distracted driving.
Someone texting while driving might be fined for distracted driving.

There are three main types of distractions drivers may encounter on the road: manual, cognitive, and visual. Visual distractions include doing things like reading, trying to adjust a navigation system, or looking at something on the side of the road like an interesting building or sign. While people are not looking, they miss issues like drifting into the opposite lane, traffic slowdowns up ahead, and other threats to safety. Distracted drivers may also fail to spot people or animals crossing the road, and could hit them.

Distracted driving can sometimes lead to car accidents.
Distracted driving can sometimes lead to car accidents.

Manual distractions can involve operating the controls of a car, forcing the driver's hands off the wheel. Drivers may fiddle with radio or heating settings, or could engage in activities like eating, applying makeup, or adjusting clothes while driving. All of these distractions prevent drivers from controlling the wheel if there is a problem, and may put drivers in danger. Some car companies have tried to address this form of distracted driving by creating interactive voice interfaces, so people can adjust volume, change tracks or stations, and manage the climate control system without needing to touch anything.

Drivers who receive tickets for distracted driving may be able to attend traffic school.
Drivers who receive tickets for distracted driving may be able to attend traffic school.

When drivers experience cognitive distractions, they focus mentally on something other than driving. Cell phones are a common culprit, as are conversations in the car. Drawing the attention of the brain to tasks other than driving can make people unable to respond as quickly to events on the road, like cars stopping or a light changing. Awareness of the risk of cognitive distractions has led many nations to restrict or ban activities like cell phone use while driving in the interests of public safety.

Drivers who receive tickets for distracted driving may be able to attend traffic school and strike the ticket from their records, depending on policy and their driving history. Insurance rates will increase if people do not address the ticket, and can rise very high in the case of a distracted driving citation, as the insurance agency may be concerned that the driver will probably repeat the activity.

Eating and drinking should be avoided while driving.
Eating and drinking should be avoided while driving.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Wisedly33

I've never heard of anyone who actually got a ticket that said, "distracted driving." I have heard of people being cite for being on the phone, or texting while driving.

The guys on the "Mythbusters" TV show did an episode about talking on the cell phone and driving. Their results agreed with some insurance companies' assessments that driving while on the phone equals to a blood alcohol level of .12, which is way over the limit. More recent studies estimated that texting while driving equaled at least a .20 blood alcohol level. That's pretty drunk.

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