3,477 lives in 2015alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving represents a leading cause of accidents across the U.S.
With the introduction of cell phone technology, states have implemented various laws to cut down on the number of accidents caused by distracted driving, with most states banning texting and driving altogether. Other forms of distracted driving include anything that diverts your attention from the road, including reading, writing, and personal grooming.
Exactly what activities do law enforcement consider as distracted driving, and what penalties can you expect if caught driving while distracted? In this article, Part 1 gives examples of distracted driving, Part 2 lays out an overview of the laws and guidelines, and Part 3 suggests alternate strategies for situations in which you need to use a cell phone.
Part 1 of 3: Examples of distracted driving
Law enforcement considers any activity that causes you to take your eyes off of the road as distracted driving. Some common examples of distracted driving include:
- Personal grooming (including putting on makeup)
- Eating and/or drinking
- Using a mobile device to text, send an email, or check social media websites
- Taking a photograph, including selfies
- Checking a map or GPS device
- Using an app on a mobile device
- Changing the radio station or CD
- Reaching for an object, including a cell phone
- Talking to a passenger
Part 2 of 3: Distracted driving laws and guidelines
Other than laws governing who can or cannot use a handheld device while driving, there are few laws on the books that penalize drivers for other distracting activities. NHTSA has released some voluntary guidelines for vehicle manufacturers and drivers after it conducted a distracted driving project.
Phase one of the project focused on vehicle systems that could cause a distraction while driving, in addition to electronic device developers. The aim of the project involved finding ways to better design systems and devices so as to reduce the potential for driver distraction.
The second phase of the project focused on a set of guidelines to help reduce distracted driving. This phase mainly relied on feedback from drivers and others from the public. To prevent distracted driving, NHTSA recommends drivers observe the following safety guidelines while driving:
- Maintain a safe, distraction-free atmosphere while driving, including focusing on the road and not any mobile devices in the car.
- Set up your GPS or other mobile device for directions prior to driving on the road.
- Passengers who see drivers texting should speak up and offer to text or call for them so that they can focus on the road while driving.
- Always wear a seat belt, as this can help protect you if you are involved in an accident caused by distracted driving.
Part 3 of 3: What to do if you need to use a cell phone or GPS while driving
What should you do in order to avoid an accident from distracted driving? Experts offer helpful hints to avoid distracted driving. Consider the following tips:
- Avoid taking notes, writing any messages, or looking up phone numbers when driving.
- Pull over if you need to make a call or text using your handheld device.
- When pulling over, pull into a parking lot or pull over as far to the right as you can if you are on the side of the road.
- Have one of your passengers make a call or text for you if you can’t pull over.
- Avoid distracting conversations when driving.
If your state does allow you to use your cell phone or text while driving, the best advice is to not do so. It’s an extremely dangerous practice. But if you must use your phone in an emergency and can’t pull over, keep in mind the following advice:
- Avoid making calls in bad weather or heavy traffic.
- Use your contact list within your phone when driving. Programming frequently called numbers into your phone can help you avoid distraction.
- Keep your phone within easy reach to avoid having to reach for it if someone calls.
- Hold the phone at eye level if you need to dial a number while driving.
To maximize your safety while driving, make sure to avoid all distractions. This includes not using a cell phone or other mobile device. If you must text or make a call, pull over before doing so. To protect yourself from other distracted drivers, make sure you drive defensively and never assume that other drivers will pay attention for you.