Aside from making sure your car is freshly tuned and filled with gas, the most important thing you can do to ensure a safe, hazard-free car trip is to stay focused on the road. In 2014, distracted driving killed 3179 people in the U.S., and injured 431,000 more. Here are 15 surprising, practical, and illuminating facts about the dangerous practice that will hopefully inspire you to become a model motorist.
1. AVOID EVEN HANDS-FREE TECHNOLOGY WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND THE WHEEL.
You’ve likely heard that it’s dangerous to talk on the phone or text while driving. But it should be OK if you use a headset or a hands-free device, right? Wrong. According to one study, after you’re finished making voice commands, you’ll stay distracted from the road for up to 27 seconds as you get back into your driving groove. As a result, you might not notice signs, other vehicles, or pedestrians. To avoid this predicament, stay off mobile devices altogether until you’re safely parked.
2. AMERICA’S ROADS ARE FILLED WITH DISTRACTED DRIVERS.
According to one 2011 survey, around 660,000 American drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices at any given daylight moment. Even if you’re paying attention to the road, keep in mind that individuals in the cars surrounding you might not be as in-tune with their surroundings. In other words, stay cautious!
3. CELL PHONES AREN’T THE ONLY COMMON CAUSES OF DISTRACTED DRIVING.
While the number one source of driver inattention is cell phones, one 2011 poll of 2800 Americans found that 86 percent of drivers admitted to eating or drinking while driving, while 20 percent of drivers said they’ve styled their hair behind the wheel. Meanwhile, 14 percent of drivers confessed that they’ve applied makeup, and 13 percent have browsed the internet. And in another survey, people even said they’ve brushed their teeth or changed their clothes.
4. MUSIC CAN DISTRACT YOU WHILE DRIVING …
Like to rock out while on the road? It’s fine to listen to music, but keep in mind that the tunes you select might negatively affect your driving skills. In an Israeli study of 85 teens, young drivers who played their preferred songs at top volume made way more mistakes while maneuvering a vehicle. Meanwhile, adolescents that listened to mellow genres they hadn’t chosen themselves, like easy listening, soft rock, and light jazz, showed a 20 percent decrease in errors and miscalculations.
Not a fan of lilting saxophones or acoustic guitars? Play the music you like, but make sure to turn down the volume and keep your eyes on the horizon.
5. … AND SO CAN YOUR MOOD.
Feeling rattled? Take some deep breaths and wait a few minutes (or better yet, a few hours) before you climb behind the wheel. Researchers who studied 1600 crash events over a three-year timespan found that drivers who were noticeably sad, angry, or upset ended up increasing their risk of an accident by nearly 10 times.
6. EATING WHILE DRIVING DRAMATICALLY INCREASES YOUR ACCIDENT ODDS.
Eating while driving is particularly lethal. People who chow down on meals or sip beverages on the roads increase their odds of an accident by 80 percent.
7. REST STOPS HELP YOU STAY FOCUSED WHILE DRIVING.
Rushing to reach your destination? By slowing down, enjoying the journey, and making plenty of rest stops, you might save your life. In 2011, one hospital study found that having to go to the bathroom badly while driving impairs your judgment and focus similarly to if you were cruising along with a 0.05 blood-alcohol level. Plus, many states are now creating “safe phone zones”—a safe place off the roadways where drivers can check emails, make calls, and view texts. That way, you won’t be as tempted to use your mobile device on the road.
8. IT’S SAFER TO KEEP YOUR STUFF IN THE FRONT SEAT THAN THE BACK SEAT.
Stash important things like sunglasses, water bottles, and cash in the front of your car instead of in the rear. According to one recent study, reaching behind you to grab gear makes you nine times more likely to have a car accident.
9. DISTRACTED DRIVING IS ESPECIALLY DEADLY AMONG TEENS …
While distracted driving is dangerous for all age groups, it’s more prevalent—and deadly—among adolescents. According to government statistics, 10 percent of all drivers ages 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes.
10. … BUT PARENTS AREN’T IMMUNE TO IT EITHER.
One Australian study found that the average parent actually takes their eyes off the road for 3 minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute car trip with a kid.
11. MOST STATES (AND SOME U.S. TERRITORIES) HAVE PASSED LAWS TO PREVENT DISTRACTED DRIVING …
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use for novice drivers, and school bus drivers are prohibited from using mobile devices in 20 states and D.C. Texting isn’t allowed in 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, drivers are forbidden from using hand-held cell phones altogether in 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
12. … AND PUNISHMENTS FOR BREAKING THEM RANGE FROM WEAK TO HARSH.
In California, you’ll only get fined $20 the first time you’re caught texting while driving. For each additional incident after that, you’ll be charged $50. In contrast, the maximum penalty in Alaska is a fine of $10,000 and one year in jail.
13. TEXTING WHILE DRIVING KILLS MORE TEENS THAN DRINKING AND DRIVING.
The leading cause of death for teenage drivers is texting—not drinking. According to a 2013 report, nearly a dozen adolescents died each day in a texting-related accident.
14. PARENTS CAN TEACH TEENS TO NOT ENGAGE IN DISTRACTED DRIVING.
Since teens’ prefrontal cortexes—the region of the brain that’s used in good decision making—aren’t fully developed, some psychologists say that it’s up to parents to make sure their children don’t engage in distracted driving. They recommend for adults to instruct adolescents to put their phones in their car trunks (or another hard-to-reach place), and to also monitor cell phone records and texting histories to make sure their kids aren’t using their mobile devices on the road. If your child’s been breaking the rules, take away their phone and their car.
15. MOST PEOPLE DON’T TAKE THESE FACTS SERIOUSLY ENOUGH.
“OK, OK,” you might be thinking—“I get it. I shouldn’t text, talk on the phone, eat, or listen to loud music while driving.” Don’t dismiss these stats too quickly, though, or think you’re the exception to the rule. One major automobile service organization recently conducted a survey, and found that more than 90 percent of drivers knew how dangerous cell phone distractions were. But even though these people found it “unacceptable” that other people text or send e-mails while behind the wheel, 35 percent of respondents admitted to doing the same while driving over the prior month.