Learn How to Minimize Driving Distractions During National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

The month of April is designated as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This is not just another public awareness campaign; it’s also a time of diligent enforcement and a reminder that driving distracted is against the law in many states (including Missouri!). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains that law enforcement marks this public safety campaign through an increased highway presence in support of the media campaignPut the Phone Away or Pay.”

How Many People Die From Distracted Driving?

Deaths associated with crashes caused by distracted driving remain sobering. In 2022, more than 3,300 individuals lost their lives because a distraction impeded a driver’s attention. During April, Mehlville Fire Protection District urges residents to put down their devices, drive cautiously, and understand that distractions come in many forms. 

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Distracted Driving Statistics: Most Drivers Acknowledge the Problem

Driving impaired by distractions kills thousands and injures many more each year. States are cracking down on cell phone use while driving, but do drivers understand the dangers of distractions?

A survey administered by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS) of 2,800 drivers (in 2021) revealed that nearly every driver (96 percent) acknowledged that driving and texting or emailing (via cell phone) was very or extremely dangerous. Yet, even though most drivers know the danger, 37 percent acknowledged that they talked on the phone while driving at least once during the past month. In addition, the data noted that “…Thirty-four percent admitted to reading a text or email while driving, while 23% had manually typed or sent an email or text message.”

distracted driving

An “it-won’t-happen-to-me” mentality could drive the propensity to go against common logic, but a fear of missing out (or FOMO) might also be a contributing factor. FOMO leads individuals to feel anxiety without their phones. The compulsion to check the phone when an alert indicates a new text or a social media update overrides common sense and the possibility of an accident. 

Types of Distracted Driving

While cell phone use behind the wheel is a known danger to many drivers, distractions involve any task that removes focus from driving. There are three types of distractions:

  • Manual Distraction
  • Visual Distraction
  • Cognitive Distraction

Manual Distraction is Physical

A manual distraction physically disengages the individual from driving. This refers to any distraction where the individual takes their hands off the wheel to engage in another task. 

Visual Distractions Remove Eyes from the Road

Any distraction that takes the eyes off the road is considered a visual distraction. Looking down, looking at a friend, looking anywhere but the road is dangerous.

Cognitive Distractions Cause an Inattentive Mind

Driving requires mental focus. While experienced drivers assume they can multitask behind the wheel, the mind is not quite that savvy. Driving will be impaired if the mind is distracted by emotions, worries, or even medication.

Examples of Distracted Driving 

Texting and cell phone use pose major distractions. However, numerous distractions in a car could result in driving distracted. Manual distractions include eating, applying makeup or lip balm, or changing a radio station. Visual distractions include looking over at a passenger, focusing on a billboard or other sight, rubbernecking an accident (don’t do this!), and more.

Cognitive distractions include arguing with a spouse or friend, road rage, emotional distress (never drive after a distressing incident), and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

All these distractions can lead to an accident. While many drivers know the risk of cell phone use while driving, this distraction only accounts for a small percentage of distracted driving accidents. Data reveals that cell phones accounted for only 1 percent of crash deaths in 2022; distractions of all types accounted for 8 percent of crash deaths.

Limiting cell phone use while driving aids safety, and drivers must remove other distractions, too. It is unsafe to engage in any activity that removes focus and attention from the act of driving. Eating while navigating is no safer than using a smartphone!

How to Prevent Texting and Driving

Teens are particularly vulnerable to the allure of their phones. Parents must set a positive example by modeling that cell phone use while driving is unsafe. Do not use the cell phone when driving with teens or children; not only does distracted driving increase the risk of a crash, but it shows children and teens that using a phone in the car is acceptable. 

When teens start driving, parents can teach them tips to remove the temptation of their phones. Apple allows users to turn off their phones while driving; a message is sent to anyone who calls or texts that the individual is unavailable. 

Teens also need to be educated about all the other distractions that impact driving. Anger or any extreme emotion pulls the mind from the act of driving. During a time of emotional turmoil, pull over somewhere safe and decompress, or just wait to drive. 

During National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, increase your education and awareness about distractions. Now, distracted driving is not just using a cell phone because there are many more accepted tasks drivers engage in while driving that are just as dangerous. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind always aware.