For most people, distracted driving means texting at the wheel. Using a mobile phone while driving is unquestionably dangerous, but it is far from the only kind of distraction that affects safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize distracted driving as one of the top causes of preventable collisions in the United States.
To help people better understand what constitutes distraction at the wheel, the CDC breaks it down into three primary categories. Texting is particularly egregious because it falls into all three of those categories. What are the three distinct types of distraction?
Of all three forms of distraction, mental distraction is inarguably the most common and the hardest to identify. You don’t know if the driver across the intersection from you cares more about the podcast playing in their vehicle than they do about traffic safety. You also probably can’t spot someone daydreaming from inside your vehicle. Anything that takes your mental focus off of managing your vehicle and monitoring traffic is a dangerous mental distraction.
You see visually distracted drivers making bad choices every time there’s a big crash. Rubbernecking involves people staring at a collision or other events occurring near the road instead of focusing on driving. Everything from billboards to passengers in the vehicle could make a driver take their eyes off the road and focus them elsewhere. If someone doesn’t watch the road in front of them, they are much more likely to miss something important and possibly cause a crash.
The final form of distraction is perhaps the most obvious. Manual distraction involves someone taking their hands off of the steering wheel. You can probably spot these people if you look closely and they don’t have darkly tinted windows.
They might have one hand in their lap to type out a text message or be halfway through eating a cheeseburger. Taking your hands off the wheel means you have to adjust your grip before performing a maneuver, which could be the difference between causing the crash and avoiding one.
Understanding that texting while driving isn’t the only source of distraction can help you avoid distraction and identify it in other drivers.