Distractions play a crucial role in car crashes, study says

Chances are you’ve let your mind wander while driving, but that’s more dangerous than you may know. Those little distractions, even if they seem harmless, often result in car accidents, according to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The extensive study, published Feb. 22, assessed footage shot inside more than 3,000 vehicles over three years.  During that time, researchers observed more than 900 crashes, almost three-quarters of them caused by distractions such as texting, changing the radio or looking at a cell phone. The researchers found that drivers were “clearly distracted” in almost 70 percent of observed accidents, and not surprisingly, the findings link cell phone use to many crashes.

You can read more about the study at the NIH, but the takeaway is simple: Distracted driving leads to accidents, no matter what you’re doing or how long you’re distracted.

Understanding your bad driving habits is the first step toward being a safer driver. There are three kinds of distractions while driving: manual, visual and cognitive. Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel, visual distractions take your eyes off the road, and cognitive distractions take your mind off of driving.

Check out these six tips for avoiding distractions.

  • Turn it off. Before you get in the car, turn your cell phone off or switch to silent mode. You can wait, and so can others.
  • Be prepared. Review maps and directions before you get on the road. If you need help while driving, ask a passenger to help or pull over to a safe location to review the maps/directions again.
  • Secure pets. Pets can be a big distraction in the car. Always secure your pets properly before you drive.
  • Keep kids safe. Pull over to a safe location to address situations with your children in the car.
  • Stay focused on the task at hand. Refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, reading and any other activity that may take your eyes off the road.
  • Don’t text and drive. It’s the law.

Next steps:

  • Read the Safe Kids Fayette County guide to preventing accidents while driving and get the hard facts about texting behind the wheel.
  • Check out the NIH story for more details on how distracted driving is causing accidents.