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What Are the 3 Categories of Driving Distractions?

Driving is a demanding task that calls for your full attention. Even if you are an exceptional motorist, you cannot rely on those in nearby vehicles to follow the rules of the road or maneuver through traffic in a predictable manner. As a result, you must always remain aware of your surroundings and be prepared to take evasive action if necessary.

Unfortunately, today’s drivers have to contend with more distractions than ever, and accident statistics reflect that. More than 1,000 people are injured and nine die on average every day in the United States due to distracted drivers.

When it comes to driving distractions, there are three main categories: visual, manual, and cognitive. The most dangerous attention diverters are those that fall under more than one category.

What Are the 3 Categories of Driving Distractions?

The most dangerous driver distractions are those that affect your visual, cognitive, and physical abilities simultaneously.

1. Visual Driving Distractions

As long as you are behind the wheel, you should be scanning both your immediate surroundings and the scene farther down the road. From animals and pedestrians to cyclists and stopped vehicles, all kinds of hazards can arise when you are driving. It is important to spot these dangers as soon as possible because you may need a considerable amount of time to stop in order to avoid a collision.

Reading or typing a text message is one of the most common visual distractions, and it also happens to be one of the most dangerous. The CDC reports that those who take their eyes off the road for a mere five seconds will cover the length of a football field if they are traveling 55 mph. Other common visual distractions include:

  • Checking the route on a navigation system;
  • Checking on any passengers in the backseat;
  • Looking through a purse or briefcase; and
  • Looking at a car wreck as you pass it.

2. Manual Driving Distractions

Manual distractions are those that force you to take your hands off the wheel. Texting is one of the most common manual distractions. Other dangerous examples include:

  • Reaching in the backseat for something;
  • Digging through a purse or briefcase;
  • Adjusting the stereo or navigation system;
  • Eating and drinking;
  • Applying makeup; and
  • Grooming yourself.

People often fall victim to manual distractions when they are stopped at intersections. Although there is nothing wrong with reaching in the backseat after you have stopped at a red light, you will pose a serious risk to both yourself and others if you continue reaching back after the light has turned green.

3. Cognitive Driving Distractions

Virtually anything can be a cognitive driving distraction, which takes your mind off the traffic around you. Everything from conversing with passengers to going over your to-do list calls for your attention, and the more attention you give such tasks, the less focused you will be on the road in front of you.

Cognitive distractions can be just as dangerous as visual and manual distractions, which is why the National Safety Council does not advocate the use of hands-free cell phones while driving. Researchers have actually found that although texting is incredibly dangerous behind the wheel, motorists who are talking on their cell phones are involved in more collisions.

Despite this troubling statistic, it is virtually impossible to purchase a newer vehicle without hands-free capabilities for smartphone users. The fact that cars are literally equipped with ways to distract motorists likely contributes to the prevalence of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 660,000 Americans are using their phone while behind the wheel at any given moment during the day.

You may not have control over others on the road around you, but when you make an active effort to eliminate distractions, you can reduce the risk of causing a collision—and keep insurance premiums low. As far as avoiding accidents that others cause, slowing down, maintaining a safe following distance, and driving defensively can help.