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The Three Types of Distracted Driving

distracted driving

As a busy parent, you often have a multitude of worries on your mind. This doesn’t stop when you are driving. Not to mention the added concerns like when you have to turn around to try to adjust your child’s seat belt, putting an end to a sibling fight, retrieve a toy from the backseat, rescue the Goldfish® cracker bag from tipping up or find that juice carton when your child is thirsty. All of these count as distractions.

In 2015, more than 391,000 people were injured by distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and 3,477 people were killed. Since many drivers — as many as 660,000 — admit to using their cell phone when driving, it’s even more important to understand the dangers of distracted driving.

types of distracted driving

Even though you go to the effort to buy the safest car seat and harnesses to protect your child, distracted driving may be getting the best of you and putting you all at risk. So, what are the three types of distracted driving and what can you do to keep your mind on the road?

The three types of distracted driving involve manual, visual, and cognitive distractions.

Manual Distractions

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Manual distractions are distractions that take your hands off the wheel, which may slow your reaction time and cause you to veer off the road in the event of an accident. This type of distracted driving can be anything using your hands in the car such as eating, drinking, adjusting the radio, grooming, smoking, searching for items in the car or through a wallet, or any number of distractions involving the hands.

When driving, be mindful any time you take your hands off the wheel. Try to remember to keep your hands on the wheel at all times (except when changing gear if applicable). Avoid eating and drinking in the car. Adjust all dials, playlists and so forth before you set off. If you have to make a call, activate hands-free.

Visual Distractions

Visual distractions remove your eyes from the road; they’re dangerous because you’re essentially driving blind. You may have no idea what’s going on outside the windshield. Visual distractions include operating your GPS when driving, browsing on a playlist, reading messages on your phone, searching for an item, putting on makeup, staring at surrounding scenery or billboards, craning your neck to see a passing accident, adjusting temperature controls, checking in the rearview mirror to see if your child is okay, and others.

Be sure to keep your eyes on the road when driving. Talk yourself through the scenes that are happening — in your mind — so that you can keep focused as well. It’s difficult not to get distracted by visual elements, but look ahead and assess upcoming dangers at all times.

Cognitive Distractions

Cognitive distractions are the most difficult distraction to define as they are any distraction that takes your mind off the road. You may have had an argument with a friend, you may be busy chatting to your toddler in the back or a passenger, or thinking about the day ahead, but each of these can be distracting you from the task at hand. Other cognitive distractions include daydreaming, talking to passengers or on speakerphone, driving when sleepy, having road rage, thinking about upsetting events, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or any number of ideas that take your mind from the road.

Since there’s no physical distraction, these are difficult to quantify, but be careful not to allow your mind to wonder when driving – and try not to juggle too many thoughts and actions at once. It’s difficult to keep your mind on your child’s requests and your upcoming day at work and that party you’re taking your child to on Saturday and what’s going on with that car who pulled out in front of you and take it all in. You’re bound to miss something. The National Safety Council (NSC) argues that when drivers talk on hands-free phones, they miss 50% of the visual cues outside the windshield. That’s a high percentage!


Text messaging and driving incorporates all three types of distracted driving; taking visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver. It is by far the most alarming distraction. And especially dangerous for less experienced teen drivers.

Which is why many states (47 to be exact) have made it illegal to text and drive. Twelve don’t even allow using handheld phone cell phones. You can learn the phone law in your state here.

The Takeaway

With busy lives and so much on our minds, it’s difficult to keep our minds on the roads at all times – as well as our hands on the wheel and our eyes focused on the picture unfolding before us. But it’s so important to keep yourself and other drivers safe by being aware of distracted driving and making a conscious effort to avoid manual, visual, and cognitive distractions where possible — or you could become an unnecessary statistic.

What if I’m in an accident with a distracted driver?

If you’re ever in an accident that you think was caused by distracted driving, be sure to gather evidence, seek medical assistance, and contact a trusted attorney. Read this blog for more steps on what to do if your accident was caused by distracted driving.

How many distractions do you have in the car? And did you count each of your children? Share your comments below.

Guest post: Danielle writes for Coxwell & Associates, PLLC law firm which has more than 36 years of experience dealing with car accident cases of all kinds. Disclaimer: This blog is intended for general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

Copyright 2018 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

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