It takes just an instant of distraction while driving—sending a quick text, grabbing a snack, turning around to scold the kids—and if a vehicle crashes, lives could forever change. In 2019, more than 3,000 people were killed and more than 400,000 people were injured because of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
“Project Look Out,” an initiative by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health that aims to stop distracted driving, refers to the practice as “today’s drunk driving.” While drunk driving has a social stigma tied to it, distracted driving is considered far more permissible in the eyes of the public. After all, our culture has us tethered to our devices, and many people believe they can multitask when driving. In order to protect vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, as well as drivers and passengers, that permissiveness must end.
In order to be a better, more focused driver, it’s important to ignore distractions—including those dings from your phone. In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we’re sharing tips to help you keep your eyes on the road.
- Don’t fuss with your phone. These days, many of us rely on the GPS features of our phone, and that means it’s well within reach. Commit to not using it while driving for any other purpose than mapping your route. That means don’t respond or read to texts or emails, don’t take photos, don’t dial phone numbers and don’t fiddle with music apps when you’re behind the wheel. If you don’t trust yourself to honor that commitment, there are plenty of apps you can download that will block incoming texts, calls and emails when you’re driving. Or if you have a “do not disturb” feature on the phone, you can use that.
- Make sure children and pets are safe and secure. Before you start your engine, check that kids are buckled in and the movement of any pets is restricted. That will minimize distractions, and you can feel confident that everyone is safe in their own zone.
- Avoid eating when possible. It’s best to eat before you get in the car, or when someone else is driving. But we all get hangry from time to time and, really, what is a road trip without snacks? Just make sure to choose your foods wisely. Opt for something that isn’t messy, so that you can pop it in your mouth while keeping your attention on driving.
- Get your grooming done at home. If you’ve ever seen a person applying mascara while driving—looking in the mirror as they go—then you know they didn’t get the memo. Style your hair and put your makeup on before you get in the car, or after you arrive at your destination. A little lipstick isn’t worth the consequences of a crash.
- Decide what can wait and what is urgent, and handle accordingly. Are you waiting on an urgent call that will demand all of your attention? Pull over to take it. Did you drop your credit card or wallet on the floor? Consider whether you need to stop to pick it up immediately, or if it can wait. Weigh the cost and benefits of each potential distraction, and either delay them until you stop, or pull off the road safely so you can address them with your full attention.
- Be the example to others. If you have children, remember that they are always watching and learning from your behaviors. Model how you want them to act when they drive, and focus fully on the road.
- Speak up. Whether you’re a teen in a car full of friends, or an adult driving with family members, your feelings matter. If you’re a passenger in a car and someone is fiddling with their phone, or doing anything other than paying attention to the road, let them know, kindly, that their behavior is making you anxious. You can say something as simple as,” Hey, I get really nervous when people text and drive.” Or share a statistic, such as, “I read that when you take your eyes off the road for just five seconds going 55 mph, you’re essentially driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.” Hopefully, your concern will make them change their behavior for good.
Driving is a privilege, and it’s one that drivers must take seriously. When you operate a motor vehicle, you’re steering a two-ton-or-more piece of heavy machinery as it hurtles down the road. It’s your responsibility to drive with care and help protect others who share the streets. Focused driving can save lives.