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It’s no secret cellphone use is a common driver distraction that can result in serious personal injuries. In fact, phone use contributes to nearly 30 percent of all motor vehicle accidents in the United States, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). But there are other possible driver distractions that can also play a role in accidents and personal injuries, including ones involving some things you may be doing without even realizing it.
1. Sipping and Snacking
Sipping coffee while driving may be something you do every day on your way to work. And if you only take a sip from a secure mug when stopped at lights, you should be fine. But it’s a different story entirely if you are trying to polish off an entire meal before getting to your destination or digging into a bag to get the last few chips. There’s research suggesting driving while eating a burger can boost your injury/accident risk more than using your phone.
2. Fiddling with GPS
If you’re like most drivers, you probably routinely set, adjust, and check your vehicle’s GPS system. But fiddling with your GPS while driving can be just as dangerous as using your phone. Responsibly use your GPS by mounting it so you can clearly see the screen while driving and turning up the volume at level that allows you to hear the directions.
3. Adjusting Dashboard Controls
It’s sometimes simple acts like reaching over to turn down the AC or music that’s too loud that can cause enough of a distraction to cause a car accident. Minimize this risk by adjusting your vehicle’s temperature and other personal preference settings before you start driving. If you do need to make some quick adjustments, do so when stuck at red light – but still keep an eye on what’s going on around you.
4. Talking to Other Passengers
Driving with loved ones or friends often means ongoing conversations while driving. It’s only natural to talk to people who happen to be in the car with you. But avoid things like turning to look directly at whoever is talking, especially if they are in the backseat. Also, try to avoid intense conversations that may cause you to react emotionally enough to take your attention away from the road.
5. Zoning Out
Research suggests people “zone out,” or mind-wander, anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the time. This may get you a reprimand from your boss at work, but it can contribute to an accident if it happens when you are behind the wheel. There’s no conclusive research suggesting listening to the radio can help all that much, especially if you are listening intentionally or you have strong feelings about whatever is being discussed. The most effective way to minimize mind-wandering is to take steps to improve your mental focus, such as practicing meditation — not while driving, of course.
Some drivers also get distracted by looking at the “scenery,” with one survey noting that about half of the male drivers questioned admitted to sometimes paying more attention to attractive pedestrians than the road. There is no surefire way to prevent all possible sources of driver distraction. However, it can be helpful to make a conscious effort to focus solely on driving responsibilities. And if kids start acting up in the backseat or there’s a need to apply makeup before arriving at the office, err on the side of caution and pull over to take care of things.