Distracted driving poses a serious risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2,841 people were killed and approximately 400,000 people were injured due to accidents involving distracted drivers in 2018. This is the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Many people immediately think of texting and driving when they think of distracted driving. While this is one of the most common forms of distraction on the road, there are other types of distracted driving. Any and all distractions while behind the wheel have the potential to cause an accident, so it’s important to be aware of and avoid them.

There are three broad types of distractions while driving:

Manual Distractions

Manual distractions are anything that takes your hands off the wheel while you are driving. These are dangerous because if you see something in the road that you need to react to, it takes more time to get your hands back on the wheel. You may not be able to take the action you need to in time. Even having one hand off the wheel can impact your ability to drive safely.

Some manual distractions include:

  • Eating while driving
  • Changing the radio station
  • Adjusting air conditioning knobs
  • Helping a child with a seat belt or car seat
  • Going through your purse or seat console to look for something
  • Texting and driving

Visual Distractions

Visual distractions take your eyes off the road. This means you may not see a hazard or a change in road conditions until it is too late to react properly. If you’re traveling at 55 miles per hour, you will travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to read the average text. Imagine how many things you would miss driving this distance with your eyes closed, and you’ll see why visual distractions are so dangerous.

Some visual distractions include:

  • Texting and driving
  • Looking at your phone for any reason (GPS, looking for a song to play, et cetera)
  • Staring at roadside billboards for too long
  • Searching for lost items
  • Eating while driving, especially when unwrapping food

Cognitive Distractions

Most people don’t consider cognitive distractions when they think of distracted driving, but these have just as much potential to put you and others on the road at risk. Cognitive distractions are anything that takes your mind off the task of driving. You could have both hands on the wheel and be looking at the road, but if you aren’t focused, you may miss something crucial.

Some cognitive distractions include:

  • Drinking and driving
  • Texting and driving
  • Talking on the phone (Did you know that hands-free calling isn’t any safer? Even if your hands are on the wheel, you’re still cognitively distracted.)
  • Eating while driving, in some cases
  • Road rage
  • Driving when overly emotional
  • Driving while sick
  • Drowsy driving

Overlap in Distraction Type

One thing you may have noticed is that many examples of distracted driving fall under multiple categories. For example, texting and driving is a manual, visual, and cognitive distraction. It’s fairly common for these behaviors to distract you in multiple ways, increasing the danger of an accident.

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