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How to recognize and avoid driving distractions

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Distracted driving is when a driver attempts to do a distracting activity while operating a vehicle. Not only is being distracted dangerous for the driver, but it’s also dangerous for passengers and everyone else on the road. 

According to a transportation safety page by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3,000 people were killed and over 400,000 were injured in wrecks involving a distracted driver in 2019. The CDC also reports that young adults and teens are more at risk of distracted driving. 

Thankfully, there are multiple things to do on your own to educate yourself and those around you on what distracted driving is and how to avoid it. Throughout this article, we’ll discuss the different types of distracted driving, why it happens and how to avoid them.

The three types of driving distractions

Distracted driving is categorized in three ways:  

  • Cognitive: Cognitive distracted driving happens when your focus is removed from driving. Common examples of cognitive driving distractions include, but aren’t limited to, talking on the phone or talking to other passengers. 
  • Manual: Manual driving distractions occur when a driver's hands are removed from the wheel. This could happen if they’re reaching for something in another seat or attempting to eat while driving. 
  • Visual: Visual distracted driving is the act of taking your eyes off the road while operating a vehicle. This happens when the driver looks away to text or to check their GPS. 

Part of driving safety 101 is clearly avoiding the three types of driving distractions before they happen, which means being aware of their common causes as well.

What are common causes of distracted driving?

Even the most disciplined drivers feel like they can safely remove their attention from the road. When the reality of it is, there’s no such thing as safely taking your attention away from driving. 

Sometimes all it takes is a little extra help remembering the common causes of distracted driving and how to avoid them. Remember, even small distractions can have big consequences. It’s better to remove them all instead of putting yourself (and others) at risk of danger for something small. Let’s take a closer look at a few common driving distractions.  

Texting while driving

Despite cell phone laws, texting or using the phone for any reason while operating a vehicle, is common among drivers nationwide. In fact, according to a survey conducted by The Zebra on texting and driving, more than 16% of drivers in 2021 admitted to texting  while driving,  a decrease in comparison to the 18% of drivers surveyed in 2020.   

For some, all it takes is putting their phone in the center console to avoid this common distraction. However, if you find yourself easily tempted to use the phone and drive, then it may be best to keep your phone out of reach, yet still near to your person in case of an emergency. Turning off your phone entirely may not be the best idea, either, for this may cause further issues in case of an emergency. 

You may consider alternative methods to avoid using your phone. For instance, there are apps like Verizon Smart Family Premium and Hum you can download that help those in an emergency who are unable to reach their phone. Additionally, there are apps available to block texts from coming through while you’re driving to help fight the distraction. 

Eating in the car

As convenient as it is, eating on the go comes with its consequences. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while eating increases the likelihood of crashing by up to 1.8 times. This is because consuming foods of any kind or taking a drink from a beverage requires a great deal of coordination and mental attention, thus distracting the driver from the road. 

Eating while driving is a perfect example of a manual distraction — it’s an activity that involves the driver removing their hands from the wheel to eat while driving.  

If able, eat before you leave or after you arrive at your destination. However, if you need a pick-me-up along the way, then find a safe place to park to enjoy a quick bite. That way, you’re not risking going hungry, but not risking putting yourself or others in danger, either. 


Driving with passengers can be another source of distraction. Even when unintentional, passengers sometimes forget or overlook how their behavior can be distracting to the driver. 

This is especially true for younger drivers. Teens and young adults should be especially vigilant about those they drive around, for carpooling with too rowdy of passengers could be dangerous for everyone involved. 

Of course, not everyone can remove passengers from their vehicles to help them focus. However, you can inform your passengers of the importance of their calmness on the road with a friendly reminder. Kindly explain to them how distracted you are by their actions and encourage them to save their excitement for the final destination. 

Understandably, asking children to kindly settle down is a lot easier said than done. While keeping children occupied in the car isn’t always guaranteed, you can do your best to distract them with the help of books or other quiet activities. 

Lack of cognizant attention

Unfortunately, alcohol-impaired driving can have deadly consequences. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, about 37 people die every day in the U.S. from drunk-driving related crashes, which are preventable. 

There are also other activities that could impair sober or cognizant attention — such as driving under the influence of certain prescription medications or falling asleep behind the wheel. These are all considered distracted driving. 

Is distracted driving against the law?

While distracted driving isn’t against the law, per se, many states have laws restricting activities that can create distracted driving. For instance, a nationwide text ban restricts drivers from texting while driving. 

However, states like Arizona, Idaho and many more have a complete ban on any handheld cellphone use while driving, including texting and taking handheld phone calls. 

When you find yourself getting distracted on the road, remember the value of the lives in the car and those around you — they’re worth more than a text. Take a moment to learn about the distracted driving laws in your area, for doing so could be the next step you take toward protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your community.