Tips For Minimizing Cognitive Distractions While Driving

When it comes to driving distractions, cognitive distractions are particularly important to understand. These distractions affect your mental focus while driving, potentially increasing the risk of accidents.

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Posted: 04/25/2024
 Motor Vehicle Accident    Safety  

Safe driving involves more than physical control, it's about maintaining mental awareness. Cognitive distractions are anything that takes your mind off the task of driving.

Examples of Cognitive Distractions

  • Navigation Systems and GPS - While GPS devices are helpful for navigation, they can also be distracting. Trying to input an address, adjust settings, or follow directions can divert your attention away from driving. It’s essential to set up your GPS before you start driving or have a passenger handle it.
  • Daydreaming and Mind Wandering - Our minds sometimes wander, especially during monotonous drives. However, daydreaming reduces our awareness of the road and other vehicles. Stay mindful and bring your focus back to driving if you catch yourself daydreaming.
  • Multitasking - Attempting to multitask while driving, such as eating, drinking, or applying makeup, can lead to cognitive distractions. Your brain switches between tasks, affecting your concentration on the road.
  • Emotional Distractions - Strong emotions like stress, anxiety, or sadness can impair your cognitive abilities. If you're upset or preoccupied, it's best to take a break or wait until you're in a calmer state before driving.
  • Talking on the Phone - Even using a hands-free device can be distracting. Conversations require mental effort, and your focus may shift away from driving. If possible, avoid phone calls while driving.
  • Listening to Audiobooks or Podcasts - While these can be enjoyable, they engage your mind. Be cautious not to become too absorbed in the content, especially during critical driving moments.

Distracted Driving Statistics

In the United States, over 3,100 people were killed and approximately 424,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2019 according to a recent CDC article. These accidents occurred due to various forms of distraction that diverted drivers' attention away from the road.

Interestingly, about 1 in 5 of the people who died in these crashes were not even in vehicles - they were pedestrians, cyclists, or otherwise outside a vehicle. This highlights the broader impact of distracted driving beyond just those inside cars.

Among young adult and teen drivers, the risk of distracted driving is significant. In fatal crashes involving distracted drivers in the U.S. in 2019, a higher percentage of drivers aged 15-20 were distracted compared to drivers aged 21 and older.

A 2019 survey of U.S. high school students revealed the following:
  • 39% of high school students who drove in the past 30 days texted or emailed while driving on at least one of those days.
  • Texting or emailing while driving was more common among older students than younger ones.
  • It was also more common among White students than Black or Hispanic students.
  • Students who texted or emailed while driving were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing seat belts or riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

6 Tips for Minimizing Distractions

Remember, staying focused on driving and minimizing distractions are essential for road safety. Here are some practical strategies to help you stay focused on the road:

1. Minimize Phone Use
  • Turn Off Notifications: Silence your phone or put it on "Do Not Disturb" mode to avoid distractions from calls, messages, or app notifications.
  • Use Hands-Free Devices Sparingly: Even hands-free calls can divert your attention. If possible, avoid phone conversations while driving.
2. Plan Ahead
  • Set Up Navigation Before Driving: Input your destination into your GPS or navigation system before you start driving. Adjust settings and routes while parked.
  • Prep Your Playlist or Podcasts: Choose your music or podcasts in advance. Avoid fumbling with your phone or media player while driving.
3. Stay Emotionally Balanced
  • Take a Deep Breath: If you're feeling stressed, angry, or upset, pause and take a deep breath. Calm yourself before continuing to drive.
  • Avoid Heated Conversations: Intense discussions can distract you. If a conversation becomes emotional, consider postponing it until you're not behind the wheel.
4. Mindful Driving
  • Focus on the Road: Keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind engaged. Remind yourself to pay attention.
  • Avoid Daydreaming: If your mind wanders, consciously bring it back to driving. Stay present.
5. Limit Multitasking
  • Avoid Eating While Driving: Eating requires cognitive effort. Finish your meal before hitting the road.
  • Save Grooming for Later: Applying makeup, shaving, or adjusting your appearance diverts your focus.
6. Take Breaks
  • Rest When Tired: Fatigue affects cognitive function. Pull over and rest if you're feeling drowsy.
  • Stretch and Refresh: During long drives, stop periodically to stretch, hydrate, and refocus.

What to Do After a Distracted Driving Accident

If you get into a car accident with someone you believe was guilty of distracted driving, contact a personal injury attorney in Montana for assistance. Proving a cognitive distraction can be difficult, especially if the other driver will not admit fault. Unlike other forms of distracted driving, such as texting and driving, you may not have hard evidence of a cognitive distraction. Instead, your lawyer may need to make this argument based on circumstantial evidence, such as a lack of braking before impact. Not hitting the brakes could imply that something was distracting the other driver. Contact a distracted driving accident lawyer for help with your claim.

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