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The Facts About What Distracts Drivers

Every year thousands of people are killed in crashes involving distracted drivers. It is not uncommon to assume that a distracted driving campaign is only about the dangers of texting and driving. Texting and driving is considered one of the greatest distractions for drivers.

Data collected and analyzed for the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), and published by Erie Insurance, revealed that being “generally distracted” or “lost in thought” was the top distraction involved in fatal crashes – an overwhelming 61% of distracted drivers admitted to daydreaming when a collision happened.

Daydreaming while cursing on a highway at the posted speed can have tragic consequences. Distractions and shifting focus while behind the wheel at any speed has consequences. Recently, a woman was critically injured when a vehicle, while still in neutral as it exited a car wash, rolled into another vehicle and pinned her between both cars. It can be argued that the driver, who was in the vehicle at the time of the incident, wasn’t actually “driving,” While that may be true, a driver needs to be focused and alert at all times to help ensure the safe operation of a vehicle.

While cellphone usage – usually considered one of the top factors of distracted driving-related accidents – took second place on the list of top driving distractions, only 14% of drivers admitted to using their phones when tragedy struck. Drivers who are lost in thought are such a huge problem, that the percentage of distracted drivers who admitted they were daydreaming is easily double the combined percentage of the other distraction types listed by Erie. Here is the entire list:


  1. Generally distracted or “lost in thought” (daydreaming) 61%

  2. Cellphone use (talking, listening, dialing, texting) 14%

  3. Outside person, object or event, such as rubbernecking 6%

  4. Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car) 5%

  5. Using or reaching for device brought into vehicle, such as navigational device, headphones 2%

  6. Adjusting audio or climate controls 1%

  7. Eating or drinking 1%

  8. Using other device/controls integral to vehicle, such as adjusting rear view mirrors, seats, or using OEM navigation system 1%

  9. Moving object in vehicle, such as pet or insect <1%

  10. Smoking related (includes smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in ashtray)

Many would argue that this is simply multi-tasking. Think again.

In an article published by Psychology Today, Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. explains why "multi-tasking" is actually a myth.  According to Dr. Weinschenk, "The term multi-tasking is actually a misnomer. People can't actually do more than one task at a time. Instead we switch tasks. So the term that is used in the research is "task switching".

Bottom line, we are all faced with distractions when driving.  Some are unavoidable, others we create ourselves,  and some actually develop into bad driving habits.  So before you reach for your phone, enjoy that burger and fries while cruising down the highway, or want to check your makeup in the rear-view mirror, consider the consequences...not just for you, but for your passengers and other motorists on the road.

Click here to test your "multitasking" abilities

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D., is Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University.

Click this link to read the full article 

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