Think about this: 3,477 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2015.* That’s 280 (9%) more deaths than in 2014. It’s an alarming figure and if left unchecked, it could one day amount to a traffic safety problem on par with drunk driving. So, what should you know to avoid becoming a statistic?

First, let’s cover

the three categories of distractions. Understanding these categories will help you realize why distracted driving is so dangerous.

  1. Cognitive distractions take your mind off the task of driving

  2. Visual distractions take your eyes off the road

  3. Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel

Think of some common distractions and how they relate to each category. For example, talking to passengers, using a hands-free cell phone, or listening to loud music create cognitive distractions. Reading billboards or using a GPS represent both visual and cognitive distractions. And eating or smoking involve manual distractions.

While all distractions can lead to poor driving performance, studies show that texting is, perhaps, the most dangerous of all. While other activities involve one or two categories, texting involves all three. The manual distraction of typing, the visual distraction of looking at the phone, and the cognitive distraction of thinking about the text and what you want to say.

Who is driving distracted? In 2015, 9% of all the people who died while driving distracted were teens. It’s crucial to talk to teenagers about the dangers of distracted driving. But remember, most people killed while driving distracted were adults. We all have a right to be concerned for young people’s safety, but if we are eating, doing make-up, or checking emails on the way to work, it might be time to re-evaluate our own habits. Whatever our age, we all need to do better. We all need to drive safer.

Distraction.gov notes that a single text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. If you are going 55 MPH, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field while blindfolded. Texting while driving reduces a driver’s performance equal to driving while drunk. While our phones get smarter every year, we need to get smarter about using them. Texting can wait. Whatever the message, it’s not worth your life.

*All statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (nhtsa.gov).

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