Driving Distracted: How’s YOUR Driving?

September is National Child Passenger Safety month and while ensuring that your child’s car seat is properly installed, this is only on part of the equation when it comes to ensuring the safety of your family. Today we’d like to address driving while distracted, something most of us are guilty of at one point or another. We also offer some tips on staying focused while driving so that you keep not only your children safe but yourself as well.


Distractions are everywhere. But take a moment to consider just how many things compete for our attention when we’re at the wheel:

Mobile devices and other technologies: While everyone knows texting or otherwise using your mobile phone is dangerous, many of us still do it. Texting can be perhaps one of the most dangerous activities because it invokes several attentional systems all at once. Radio, car controls, and GPS systems also vie for our attention.

Head sets: Hands-free phones and bluetooth sets don’t equal distraction-free. Phone conversations, conversations with passengers, or even listening to an audio book demand significant attentional resources. Studies show that even with our eyes on the road, our behavior is still negatively affected. When multitasking, normal patterns of visual scanning are altered so that we fixate more centrally, check our periphery less, and make less saccadic (automatic) eye movements which is what allows us to maintain an unconscious awareness of our environment.

Babies and children: Recent studies suggest kids may pose a greater risk than even texting. Turning to check on kids in the backseat or trying to retrieve dropped objects can be dangerous. And crying and yelling make it hard to concentrate even if we don’t take our eyes off the road.

Drinking and eating: In the same vein as fiddling with the radio, eating while driving takes at least one hand away from the wheel. And if you’ve ever spilled your hot Starbucks coffee on yourself while driving, you know how hard it is to finish changing lanes or make that turn when you’ve just scorched yourself.

Road rage: When we’re in a highly-emotional state like anger, our attentional focus can be narrowed and we may miss dangerous scenarios or become aggressive to other drivers. But other emotions can impact our attention. Sadness or depression, for example, facilitates significantly slower reaction times and a higher rate of accidents (1). Even happiness can impact our attention on driving…

Music: Happy, upbeat music has, perhaps surprisingly, been shown to be the most distracting type of music (1)!

Day dreaming: Ever find yourself snap out of a daydream and realize you have no recollection of the specific scenery the last mile? Our brains are good at auto piloting, but if you’re not actively paying attention to the road, you can’t anticipate problems as well.

Driving Distracted: One Mom’s Experience

Recently, Daily Mom participated in the Super Mom Ride-N-Drive hosted by Cooper Tire. Along with testing tires, moms were put to the test a the distracted driving course to raise awareness about the dangers of driving with distractions.

Here’s what our Daily Mom driver had to say about her experience:

“I consider myself a very safe driver, and a good driver at that. I’m that person on the highway going 5 mph under the speed limit. So after I completed Cooper’s distracted driving course, I was surprised to learn when I was trying to complete assigned tasks like sending a text message, or retrieving a toy from the floor, my speed dropped really low—which is something to consider: going too slow, or driving at inconsistent speeds, can be just as dangerous as speeding. I also had to back into a parking spot with passengers (my “kids”) shouting in the background. I totally flattened the imaginary Mercedes Benz that would have been in the spot next to me. Distracted driving has the potential to not only be dangerous to yourself and your passengers, but your wallet as well! The course got me to thinking about my habits and experience. I’ve long before vowed to never text and drive. But up until now I would read and send texts while I’m at a red light. But even that has the potential to interfere with your driving—even if I’d put my phone down as soon as the light turns green, I would sometimes still feel like I’m in a mental fog. After resuming driving, even if my phone is away, my mind was sometimes still on the text. So, now I switch my phone on silent and throw it in the diaper bag in the back seat. I have a deactivated phone in my door that can call 911 if I ever have an emergency.”

Consider This

Analyses of crash data indicate that glancing away from the road for more than 2 seconds, for any reason, doubles the risk of a near-crash/crash (2). Consider this: Going at 45mph, looking away for 2 seconds leaves you driving essentially blind for almost half the length of a football field!

Tips

  • If you frequently fail at attempts not to use your phone, just put it physically out of reach.
  • Put your phone on silent so calls and alerts aren’t distracting. Some phones allow you to enable silent mode but will ring if the same contact calls you in quick succession, in case of an emergency.
  • Got an older kid? Let them be your secretary and handle texting dad if you need to communicate.
  • Need more help breaking a cellphone habit? There’s an app for that. Textecution disables the use of apps at driving speeds. DriveSafe.ly will read your text messages aloud for you. Parents of teens may also want to check out TeenSafe, Drive First, and DriveScribe.
  • Position child mirrors in the backseat so that you can check them through your rear-view mirror (when you’re stopped), rather than turning around. There’s even a baby monitor made for the car that allows precise positioning (as for mounting the screen, see next tip).
  • While helpful, GPS units can be distracting (and annoying!). If you must use one, review your route ahead of time. Mounting the monitor within an approximately 30 degree field of view from your windshield will help you keep your eyes focused on the road.
  • Manage your time. Force yourself into the habit of leaving early so you’re not in a hurry.
  • As soon as your children are old enough to understand, begin teaching them the importance of remaining calm in the car. Pick a phrase to use consistently that they can learn means it’s time to be patient, such as “Quiet!”, “Driving!”, or “Wait for Stop!”.
  • Keep sunglasses attached to your visor so you don’t need to reach for them.

  • When taking curves or turns, check your rear view mirror beforehand so that you know what is behind you and you can keep your eyes on the road during tight curves. Always keep both hands on the wheel when in a curve.
  • If you frequently count a pup among your passengers, pick up a pet harness to keep him from climbing into the front seat.

  • Don’t eat while driving. As moms, most of us rarely get a chance to eat alone, so why not enjoy your food, even if it’s just pulling into a parking lot and taking a few moments to yourself? If you must drink a beverage while driving, keep a stash of straws in the glove compartment so you don’t need to fiddle with lids, or invest in a quality coffee thermos with a securely fitting lid so you don’t end up spilling something hot on yourself.
  • Keep a stash of toys and activities close to your child so she can reach for something herself without your help. These should be lightweight toys that would not become dangerous projectiles in the event of a crash. If you’ve got an infant, keep a stash of pacifiers on your passenger-side seat that you can hand to your baby once at a stoplight, rather than fishing for dropped binkies on the floor.

  • Consider a defensive driving course. Your nearest DMV should have information on local courses, and your insurance may provide a discount on premiums or other incentive for completing a course.
  • Practice mindfulness. Even individuals without prior meditation experience can benefit from brief exercises. Take several minutes before driving to focus on your breathing. Focus on the sensations of breath entering and leaving your body; if you notice your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the sensations you’re experiencing. Pay attention to your experience in the moment with an attitude towards acceptance (3).
  • Lastly, if you find yourself being upset by another driver, fixated on something else, or just otherwise distracted, remember who is in your car. Shift your focus away from whatever is distracting you and think about the little person or persons in the backseat.

While we may never be able to completely eliminate distractions, we can pledge to minimize the distractions, internal and external, under our control. Additionally, we can maintain the condition of our vehicle so that if we are faced with the need to make an emergency stop or sharp turn, we increase our chances of staying in control of the situation.


Check out more articles on safety:

Rear Facing: Just The Facts
Car Seats: 5 Mistakes You May Be Making
Common Car Seat Mistakes
Mommy’s First Aid Kit Essentials
Packing a 72-Hour Emergency Bag For Your Family
Safe Family Boating Tips
Training For Parenthood: Infant and Child CPR
Teaching Your Child About Stranger Danger


References
1. Pêcher, et al. (2009) Emotions drive attention: Effects on driver’s behavior. Safety Science, 47(9):1254-59. doi: 10.1016/j.ssci.2009.03.011
2. Klauer, et al. (2006) The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: An analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data. U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
3. Arch, et al. (2006) Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behavior Research and Therapy, 44(12):1849-58. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2005.12.007

Photo credits: Photo of dog adapted from Kari Sullivan (CC BY 2.0); All others  The Whimsical Photographer, taken at the 2014 Cooper Tire Super Mom Ride-N-Drive.

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Laura

Laura is a wife and a new mom living on the East Coast. She and her husband welcomed their first child in September 2013. She has a passion for photography and an incurable case of Wanderlust. In her spare time she enjoys blogging about photography, travel, married life, and motherhood at The Whimsical Photographer.

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