3 Driving Distractions and How to Avoid Them

This is the second post of a two part series in recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a national campaign against cell phone use while driving.

During the third annual Distracted Driving Awareness Month this April, legislators and law enforcement agencies are targeting cell phone use while driving as a major threat to road safety.

However, driving safely requires you to tune out many distractions that are not addressed by traffic laws. What other distractions in your car could be preventing you from focusing on the complex task of driving?

Driving With Kids

The Younger the Passenger, the Bigger the Distraction

  • Child passengers are 12 times more distracting than talking on a cell phone. (ABC)(Monash University)
  • Parents with children 1-8 years old in the car take their eyes off the road for an average of 3 minutes and 22 seconds during a 16 minute drive. (ABC)(Monash University)
  • Kids are four times more distracting than adult passengers, and infants are eight times more distracting. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)

Establish Car Rules

  • Explain to children that you need to pay attention to the road while you are driving, and they will need to wait until the car is stopped for you to perform tasks like changing the music or handing them dropped items.

Be Prepared

  • Make sure that snacks, books, or games are within easy reach of your older children.
  • For younger children and babies, plan on having a snack before your trip, since you may not be able to provide the attention they need while they eat.

Keep Mirrors Focused on the Road

  • Do not adjust your rearview mirror to see kids in the backseat. Being able to see behind your car is essential to safe driving.
  • If you decide to use a special mirror to see a child in a rear-facing car seat, make sure it is securely fastened. It could become a hazard to everyone in the car if it comes loose during a collision.


According to a recent study by Erie Insurance and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 62% of fatal car crashes involved a driver who was "generally distracted" or "lost in thought (daydreaming)." (WAVE)

Don’t Drive While Drowsy

  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts can be a warning sign that you are becoming drowsy. (National Sleep Foundation)
  • Make sure you get enough sleep the night before you drive.
  • If you become drowsy while you are driving, stop and take a nap, or let another driver take over.

What’s On Your Mind?

  • If you find yourself unable to focus on your driving, try to identify what is distracting you and take steps to eliminate it.
  • This may be as simple as turning off the radio and giving yourself some peace and quiet.
  • If you are worried or experiencing strong emotions, take the necessary steps to clear your head. This may require stopping until you are able to compose yourself and continue safely, or calling a friend for assistance.

Your Car’s Features

Many states have passed laws against using cell phones while driving, but none have addressed the distraction posed by the complicated entertainment and navigation systems of newer cars. Some cars even offer the ability to connect with your smartphone using your car’s controls.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have proposed voluntary guidelines for automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk of electronic devices installed in vehicles. These guidelines would include reducing the complexity and length of tasks required by the device, and disabling text messaging and internet browsing unless the car is parked.

Until the new guidelines come into effect or states begin to pass laws targeting other electronic equipment as a source of distraction, it is up to drivers to use these devices responsibly.

Make Adjustments Before Driving

  • Take a moment before you begin driving to make adjustments. If you have your seat position, navigation systems, temperature control, and music just the way you want before you hit the road, you won’t be tempted to make changes as you drive.

Know the Risks

  • Keep in mind that texting, dialing, browsing the internet, and having phone conversations using your car’s built-in systems is just as distracting and risky as performing these tasks on a cell phone.

While there are no laws against letting your thoughts wander or passing a snack to your kids in the backseat, these distractions still have a serious impact on your ability to drive safely. Being distracted contributes to risky driving behaviors which could cost you a ticket, or worse, cause a collision.

The next time you get behind the wheel, take a few minutes to identify any potential distractions before you start your journey. Taking care of distractions before you drive will help you stay focused and reach your destination safely.