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Are You A Distracted Driver?

By Abbey Wagner, InsWeb
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Ever tried to eat a hamburger while driving? What about trying to separate your two fighting kids in the back seat? Ever reached down to pick up a CD that fell on the floor while driving? These are just a few of the most common driver distractions.

We all become more comfortable driving as the years progress, but unfortunately many of us become a little too confident. Your license to drive is not a license to drive while simultaneously putting on your makeup and shoving down a quick breakfast.

Let's take a look at some common distractions. Are you guilty of performing any of these activities while driving?

  • Outside Distractions. Whether it's a restaurant that just opened, a human billboard pointing the way to new homes, a beautiful rainbow or a bad accident, most of us just cannot resist the urge to take a peek, even when we should be concentrating on the road.

  • Sicknesses. A sudden onset of sneezes, a bad cough and searching your car for a tissue to catch that runny nose are all examples of how being sick can distract you from driving. Not to mention the fact that most of us are not at our most alert when we are sick. That's why it is extra important to pay attention to the road and to wait until you are stopped at a traffic light to reach for that tissue. Of course we can't predict sneezes, but make sure you quickly look back to the road after you sneeze.

  • Inspector Gadget. Cars these days often have more controls than a small plane. Besides the obvious stereo and temperature controls, many cars have features such as navigation systems and televisions. CD players can be especially distracting, as it takes at least one hand off the wheel to pick out a CD and put it in, especially if your pack of CDs is on the ground and you have to reach for them…which brings us to…

  • Reaching for the Unreachable. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. For some reason, we just HAVE to have that book in the back seat in our hands now. But this is one of the worst driver distractions…as it usually means that our hand or hands are off the wheel AND our eyes are off the road. Next time, try to make yourself wait to grab that errant CD until you are stopped at a traffic light. Or, if it's safe, pull over and grab whatever you need.

  • Eating and Drinking. One of the most common driver distractions is eating and/or drinking while driving. These days, we all seem to be in a rush, and many of us try to scarf down our breakfast or lunch on our way to work. Some of the worst foods to eat while driving are coffee/tea (a hot spill on your leg will certainly distract you), messy hamburgers or sandwiches that drop stuff all over you while you are driving, anything fried that leaves you with greasy hands that could slip off the steering wheel, and, similarly, things like chocolate and jelly doughnuts that leave your hands sticky or slick. Try to avoid eating on the road whenever possible. If you are in a rush, grab a quick bite and eat it in the parking lot before leaving.

  • Distracting Discussions. Ever gotten in a heated debate while driving? What about listening and intervening as your children in the backseat start arguing? Interaction with your passengers is another common driving distraction. This can especially be a problem for new drivers, who should focus all their attention on their driving and not on their passengers.

  • Beautification. Again, you're running late. You forgot to put on your mascara/brush your hair/shave. What better place to do it then in the car, right? Wrong! Things that involve tools not only take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road, they also have the potential to hurt you and cause further distraction. If you are a woman putting on your mascara or a man shaving, and you have to brake suddenly, think of the injuries that could ensue!

  • Cell Phones. You knew we'd get to this one eventually. Cell phone use in cars has been a hot topic ever since cell phones started becoming popular. We all know that talking on our phones can distract our attention from driving. We all know that we should use hands-free devices whenever possible (although these can still be a distraction, just like the distracting discussions topic above). Yet a large percentage of us still talk on our cell phones frequently while driving. Try to keep your cell phone use while driving limited to emergencies only. If you get a call you really want to take, pull over in a safe spot and have your conversation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that distracted driving causes around 25 percent of the auto accidents in the U.S. each year. That's nearly 1.6 million accidents annually caused by many of the things we discussed above, most of which are so easily preventable. Try to avoid letting distractions take your attention away from what you should be doing, concentrating on driving and protecting the lives of you and your passengers.
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