What are the most common kinds of distracted driving?

July 29, 2020

Learn to spot and avoid the most common kinds of distracted driving


A woman talking on the phone talking to her child, common kinds of distracted driving

Distractions are an inevitable part of our everyday lives; work, family, friends, and even pets often pull our attention in all directions. However, when we're driving, such distractions can be incredibly dangerous and every year, thousands of accidents occur as a result. So what can we do to keep ourselves focused when we're behind the wheel? Fortunately, a little knowledge goes a long way towards keeping you sharp and safe on the road. Read on as we discuss the most common kinds of distracted driving!

Distracted driving statistics


Despite numerous ad campaigns from TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) and carriers, such as AT&T, distracted driving continues to be a substantial cause of  auto accidents in Texas.

According to TxDOT, there were 540,561 crashes on Texas roads in 2018. Of those, 18%, or 95,572 were the result of distracted driving, resulting in 394 deaths and 2,340 major injuries. 

Simply taking your eyes off the road, or hands off the wheel, things can go horribly wrong in a few split seconds. For example, if you're traveling at 75 MPH, you'll travel the length of nearly two football fields in just five seconds. 

That is why it is essential to understand the most common causes of distracted driving, and do your best to minimize or eliminate such habits. 

How are the causes of distracted driving categorized?


With the rise of cell phone ownership over the last decade, we now have even more distractions that threaten to grab our attention when we should be watching the road. However, distracted driving has been an issue long before the technology became commonplace. 

Categories of distracted driving


When it comes to driving distractions, experts divide them into three categories based on how they specifically affect the person behind the wheel. 

Manual distractions. Despite the name, this does not refer to distractions based on shifting gears in a standard transmission vehicle. Instead, this refers to any distraction that would cause you to take your hands away from the wheel. 

Visual distractions. This refers to any type of distraction that takes your eyes off of the road in front of you.

Cognitive distractions.  Cognitive distractions are instances where your mind loses focus of the task at hand: driving. 

Common driving distractions


Now that we have outlined the categories of driving distractions, let's look at some specific examples of common distractions. While some of the following certainly fall into a single category, many of them are so dangerous because they involve multiple categories, or even all three. 

Kids and pets. As many folks with kids know, having a child on board can offer a host of potential distractions. When your child is upset, or otherwise trying to get your attention, it can be difficult to keep your eyes on the road, your mind on the task of driving, and your hands on the wheel when such things are happening in the seats behind you. 

Pets can also be dangerous to have as passengers. While they aren't likely to argue with you or their siblings, they can provide their own brand of distraction. If they're not used to car rides, they could become afraid and move around frantically, possibly even getting between your feet and the pedals. 

If you're riding with another parent, be sure to put them on kid duty to help take care of the little ones in the vehicle. If your kids are old enough, consider talking to them ahead of time about how important it is for you to pay attention to driving. Offer them quiet activities to hold their attention and keep them from getting bored.

When your pets are along for the ride, there are a number of ways you can keep them safe and secure, such as crates and barriers. If they're small enough and comfortable in a crate, you can often provide them extra comfort by draping a towel or blanket over it. Regardless of which method you chose, it's important to keep them calm and as stationary as possible.

However, things can get a little out of hand no matter what you do. If all else fails, find a safe place to pull over before attempting to tend to any issues. 

Eating. Many of us lead busy lives, and sometimes the only moment we can find to scarf down a quick bite to eat is on the road. While that is certainly understandable, food and beverages can be incredibly distracting. 

For starters, eating almost certainly requires that you take a hand off the wheel, which is never good. If your taco starts falling apart, your natural instinct may be to try and catch it before it hits the floorboard (or falls onto your lap). Clearly, this can be a very dangerous distraction. 

Bumps in the road or sudden stops can also send your food and drinks flying, especially if they're not in a secure container. There are very few things as distracting as a cup of hot coffee splashing all over your car. 

For these reasons, the safest course of action is to avoid eating and drinking while driving. If at all possible, try to carve out a few moments on either side of your drive to eat, even if that means gobbling your meal up in the parking lot. If you're driving with someone else, ask if they'll switch places with you, giving you the chance to eat safely in the passenger seat. 

Grooming. Again, our busy lives often limit the amount of time we have to do certain things, such as grooming. Unfortunately, there is no safe way to comb your hair, shave, or apply makeup while driving. Obviously, all of these things require at least one hand off the wheel, and it often requires that you take your eyes off the road. 

Roadside distractions. Unfortunately, most of us have seen an accident on the side of the road while driving. Whether you're trying to determine if you need to call for help or simply curious, it's natural to divert your attention towards the incident - and off the road in front of you. 

But it's not just accidents that intrigue us - bright, flashy billboards or signs can also draw our attention. Even driving by a rare or exotic car can be enough to cause you to look away for a quick peak. 

Regardless of the distraction, remember that your first priority must be safely operating your vehicle. If you spot an accident and need to render aid or call 911, pull over to a safe location before doing so. Regardless of how interesting something outside your window might be, it's not worth putting yourself at risk. 

Dial and dashboard distractions. Before we all had streaming music and podcasts through our bluetooth systems, we had radios, CD players, and tape decks to distract us. While these often come standard with our vehicles, they can still be incredibly distracting. Beyond on-board entertainment, AC and heating controls, vents, and mirrors can all pull your eyes and hands away from the task at hand. 

That's why it's recommended that you try and handle as much of that as possible before hitting the road. Adjust your mirrors, put on your favorite radio station, and set your temperature from the safety of your driveway. If you absolutely have to make adjustments, try to do them when stopped at a light, or pull over. 

Daydreaming. Humans don't necessarily need external distractions to lose focus on their driving. Before smartphones, MP3 players, CDs, and even radios, we had our imaginations. Whether you're having mid-day fantasies, an imaginary discussion, or simply zoning out, daydreaming can be incredibly dangerous while driving; you might have your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, but if you're mind isn't behind the wheel, your reactions could suffer. 

The best way to combat this distraction is to learn to detect when you're doing it and consciously refocus your attention . Of course, this can be difficult to do. In general, this can start to happen when your mind goes into autopilot, or when you're performing mundane, repetitive, or otherwise boring tasks. In fact, you may notice this happens a lot during the day, even when you're not driving. By learning to spot this when you're not driving, you can get better at spotting it when you are. 

Additionally, we may often drift off when we're sick, stressed, or sleepy. Practicing healthy habits can go a long way to helping you keep your mind focused while driving. 

Loose items. If you've ever had to slam on the brakes, or take a tight turn, you know that anything that isn't secure can go flying. Whether it's groceries, a take-out order, or your briefcase, it can be very difficult to pay attention when objects take flight in your vehicle. 

Make use of your cupholders and compartments to keep items from shifting while driving, and keep your groceries in your trunk if you have one. Some vehicles have specialty grocery compartments, but you can purchase a number of products that can help keep items secure. 

Talking, texting, and smartphone use. When it comes to distracted driving, few things are as dangerous as our cell phones. As the technology improves, we're able to do more and more with one single device. While this is great most of the time, it can be a source of distraction that is very difficult to ignore. 

With the rise of smartphones, we're more connected than ever before and many of us feel immense pressure to respond to phone calls, emails, text messages, and social media notifications. That's why it's so important to do whatever you need to do to remove the temptation. 

Some find that it is best to silence their phones, or even keep them in the glove box while driving. Alternatively, many phone manufacturers and service carriers provide "drive mode" apps that limit notifications, prevent certain functions, and even reply automatically. If you know that you'll often need to make or take phone calls while in the car, consider purchasing a handsfree system, like a bluetooth headset. 

However, the best and safest option is to either wait until you get where you're going, or pull over to a safe place, such as a parking lot. 

The Law in Texas


In recent years, Texas has taken legislative action to help combat distracted driving, primarily through laws prohibiting use of handheld electronics. In 2017, Texas passed legislation to ban use of wireless communication devices for messaging, including texting, email, social media, while operating a motor vehicle.

According to TxDOT, these laws feature the following:
  • Drivers can't send or receive texts
  • Drivers with a learner's permit can't use handheld cell phones during first six months of driving
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communication devices
  • School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
  • All texting or use of handheld devices is prohibited in school zones
Additionally, many local Texas governments have passed ordinances of their own. For example, Austin has laws prohibiting all use of handheld electronic devices, even to talk on the phone, unless you're using some sort of hands free device, like a bluetooth headset. 

Beyond the physical harm to yourself and others, getting caught distracted driving could mean a significant increase in auto insurance premiums, as well as a hefty ticket.

Hands holding a phone and a drink, common kinds of distracted driving

Life presents a lot of distractions. Don't let searching for auto insurance be one of them! Request a free quote online or contact one of our agents and see why Germania is the Insurance Texans Trust! 

Read more: Beyond distracted driving, a broken windshield can make driving hazardous. But when should you repair your windshield, and when should you replace it? Read our blog for more info!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.