Distractions have existed for as long as there have been drivers on the nation's roads. Drivers must constantly fight to keep their focus on the task at hand and not have their attention diverted by outside temptations like billboards, scenery, highway markers and the like.
In-car distractions are even more tempting. Grabbing a snack, taking care of some grooming (putting on makeup or brushing hair), changing the music selection or drinking a beverage are all widespread and common while driving.
The distractions facing drivers nowadays are much more high-tech than in the past. Smartphones and tablets put the entire internet right at our fingertips, even while we should instead be focusing our attention on driving.
When using smartphones to talk, text, email, chat, update social media, use apps or play games in the safety and comfort of our own homes - or even from the passenger seat of the vehicle - there's "no harm, no foul." Doing these things behind the wheel, however innocuous they may seem, can result in serious car crashes.
Not all distractions are created equal.
While still hazardous, momentarily taking a sip of your beverage is safer than, for example, taking a selfie behind the wheel and posting it to Snapchat or Instagram. Switching the radio station is less risky than composing an entire text message.
We may not realize how such things as text messaging and using apps can impact our focus and concentration, particularly if we do them often enough that they seem second nature. The processes of using apps or sending/receiving text messages actually involve three distinct levels of distraction, though.
- Manual: physically manipulating the phone or tablet to type in a message, open an app, take a selfie or post an update means taking hands off the wheel. You may not be able to quickly swerve around a piece of debris or correct your course following a blowout if you're not holding the steering wheel securely.
- Visual: if you're looking down at the screen to check for the best picture angle, ensure you spelled a word correctly or add a caption to a photo, you can't fully focus on the road ahead. You could miss slowing cars, red lights, pedestrians and more.
- Cognitive: using up valuable neurological processing space to mentally compose a message or ponder an incoming post means that those resources aren't available for other functions. This can lead to the phenomenon of "inattention blindness," where you literally don't see potential hazards right in front of you (stop signs, stationary objects, etc.).
Distracted drivers cause hundreds of thousands of accidents each year. If you or someone you love is injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, reach out to a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible.