It’s easy to become distracted while driving, but it’s also extremely dangerous. Distracted driving remains one of the most common causes for car accidents in the United States. If you’re driving at 60 miles an hour, that translates to a speed of 88 feet per second. If you glance down at your cell phone to read an incoming text, or at your French fries so you can keep eating, for even half a second, your car will travel 44 feet before you have a chance to react. A sudden stop from the car in front of you, the emergence of an animal or foreign object on the road, or a gradual drift into another lane could be all it takes to involve you in a collision.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons distracted driving remains such a problem for the roads is because it’s hard to prevent. Laws on texting while driving are starting to become more popular, but they can’t stop people from using their mobile devices 100 percent of the time-nor is texting the only way to become distracted while driving.
All you can do is improve your habits to the best of your ability, to reduce the odds of being involved in a collision due to distracted driving.
For starters, you can reduce distractions in your own life:
- Keep your phone in the glove box. Most of us have smartphones on us at all times, so we can stay up-to-date on communications and call someone if there’s an emergency. But in your lap, in your pocket, or in your hand, your phone will only be a distraction. One incoming notification or urge to call or text could be enough to pull your eyes off the road for a second. Instead, leave your phone in the glove box. It will be available for emergencies, but won’t be capable of distracting you.
- Keep your eyes on the horizon. People have a tendency to follow action with their eyes. They glance from place to place and from object to object, but this visual pattern ultimately leads to a distracted disposition. Instead, try to keep your eyes on the distant horizon, so you’re less tempted to jump from item to item in your field of view.
- Plan to leave and arrive early. If you’re in a rush, you’re going to be more likely to engage in distracted behavior. Your mind will be racing, and because you left in a rush, you’ll be more likely to multitask on the drive. Instead, make plans to always leave and arrive earlier than you needed. That way, you won’t be in this rushed, distractible state.
- Complete all important tasks before leaving the house. If you have anything to do before you arrive somewhere, complete the task before getting into your car. That could mean putting on makeup, assembling a playlist for the drive, eating a snack, and so on. Take care of it before you leave the house.
- Limit your number of passengers. It’s easy to get distracted by other people when driving-especially if you have a full car. Driving with four other people, all of whom are talking, singing, or engaging in distracting behaviors, could easily pull your eyes and your attention off the road. Try to keep your number of passengers limited, and be prudent in choosing who you drive.
You can also protect yourself against other distracted drivers by driving more cautiously, such as:
- Increasing your following distance. It’s generally recommended to stay about 3 traveling seconds away from cars in front of you. This should hypothetically give you enough time to react to sudden changes made by the vehicles surrounding you. However, if you want to be extra cautious, keep a slightly longer following distance, and give yourself even more space on the road. This can shield you from erratic driving.
- Avoiding cars driving erratically. If you notice another car on the road driving unsafely, like drifting between lanes, swerving with no turn signal, or braking unexpectedly, avoid them. Pull to the side of the road to let them pass, or get in a different lane.
- Being aware of distracting situations. It’s also a good idea to be on high alert in situations that cause lots of distractions for drivers-such as when you’re driving by the scene of an existing car crash. People often rubberneck, so drive extra slowly and watch what others are doing.
There’s no way to reduce your chances of being involved in a distracted driving accident to zero-there’s always the risk posed by other drivers, and it’s possible to be distracted by something truly unexpected. However, with these strategies, you can reduce the role distractions play in your driving and keep yourself safer overall.