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Written by: J. Todd Tenge

The Three Kinds of Distracted Drivers

| Read Time: 4 minutes

Distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, putting everyone on the road at risk for severe injury or even death. Sadly, despite this risk, many drivers still allow themselves to become distracted from the traffic around them. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three kinds of distraction that drivers allow to divert their attention from the road.

Visual Distractions

When behind the wheel, a driver must always be looking at the road. This means he should have his eyes forward and should be checking rear-view or side-view mirrors every so often. One of the first ways that a driver can detect that he needs to react to something, whether that be stopping for oncoming traffic, swerving around a pothole, or slowing down to let a car merge ahead of him, is through the sense of sight. Without the ability to see, a driver has virtually no way of steering a car correctly.

That is why visual distractions, or distractions that cause a driver to look away from the road, are so dangerous. Any distracted driver is a menace, but a driver who isn’t looking at the road can’t react to any sudden obstacles in their way. That includes pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars. A visually distracted driver can’t even follow the path of the road if it starts to curve at all.

Common forms of visual distractions include:

  • Looking at billboards or people on the side of the street
  • Checking the GPS
  • Turning around to talk with passengers in the back seat

If you notice that the driver of the car you are in has become visually distracted, you should remind them to keep their eyes on the road. If they were checking the GPS or some other device for navigation, offer to read it for them, so that they can pay attention. However, you should always keep in mind that it is a driver’s duty to behave responsibly and safely, and that you are not responsible for collisions caused by a distracted driver.

Manual Distractions

The steering wheel is a key component in properly navigating a car. It allows drivers to point which direction they want the car to travel in. Without a steering wheel, turning would be impossible, and cars would be unusable. The steering wheel must be pointed in the right direction, otherwise a car may run off the road, into a building, or even off a steep ledge. That is why teenagers getting their learner’s permits are taught to always keep both hands on the wheel. Even using one hand could lead to a driver losing control of the steering wheel and thus the car.

Manual distractions, which involve the driver taking one or both hands off the steering wheel, often cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles. For example, if a driver becomes manually distracted during freezing weather, the car may lose traction and spin out of control on some ice. By not already having the wheel in hand, the driver loses precious seconds that she could have used to regain control of the car and prevent an accident.

Common types of manual distractions are:

  • Playing with the radio
  • Eating
  • Putting on makeup

Similar to visual distractions, if you notice that the driver of your car is becoming manually distracted, do your best to remove the distraction from them. Offer to find a good radio station, ask that they finish eating later, or tell them they can put on makeup once the car is parked. Remind them of the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel.

Cognitive Distractions

On top of having to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, drivers have to focus on the act of driving. This focus allows them to react to changes in traffic, stop for pedestrians, and keep control of their vehicles in poor weather. Even if a driver is physically looking at the road, losing focus can cause her to zone out, and not truly pay attention to her surroundings. This can lead to a driver causing a serious collision with another car, someone on a bike, or even a child crossing the street.

Cognitive distractions are the hardest of the three types to spot. This is because the driver can appear as though she is looking at the road, when in reality she is lost in thought. Because cognitive distractions are hard to see, they are even more dangerous than visual or manual distractions, as the distracted driver can fool others into believing she is paying attention.

Common cognitive distractions include:

  • Daydreaming
  • Jamming out to the radio
  • Talking with passengers

If you are unsure whether the person driving your car is actually paying attention to the road, then check in with them. Ask if they need you to keep conversation to a minimum, or whether it would be useful to turn the radio off. Remember, when you are checking in with a distracted driver, you are not just protecting them from injury, but also yourself.

The Dangers of Cellphones

While there are countless ways for a driver to become distracted, few of them cover all three types of distraction. Cellphones, however, do. In order to check or send a text, for example, a driver must look at his phone screen (visual distraction), hold the phone in one hand and type (manual distraction), and either read the text or figure out what he wants to say in return (cognitive distraction). It can take several seconds just to pull a text up in order to read it — and in that amount of time, a car can travel hundreds of feet. The likelihood that there are no stopped cars, pedestrians, potholes, or turns in the road for several hundred feet is incredibly slim, meaning that checking a cellphone while driving is almost guaranteed to cause an accident.

There is no excuse for becoming distracted. Drivers have a duty of care toward those on the road around them, which means they should always drive as responsibly and safely as possible. If you have become the victim of a distracted driver, then you deserve justice. Call the Tenge Law Firm, LLC, at (303) 665-2929 for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our car accident attorneys are ready to help.

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