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You May Be More Distracted Behind the Wheel Than You Think

Family driving a silver SUV.

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

You've seen warnings about the dangers of using a phone while driving. In fact, 1 in 4 car crashes are now tied to cellphone use, according to the National Safety Council.

But a new study suggests there may be an even more distracting activity that drivers do all the time.

Topping the list? Interacting with passengers.

A recent study of 105 drivers by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found many other distractions to be as common as the use of mobile devices. Interacting with passengers accounted for nearly 12% of all distractions.

"We found that when drivers weren't using the phone, they tended to engage more in other distracting behaviors," says Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research for IIHS.

"If the driver is engaged in a complicated or emotionally laden conversation with a passenger, that can be an important distraction," McCartt says. Other behaviors, such as manipulating objects (including cellphones), eating and smoking, also took drivers' eyes, hands and thoughts off the road.

"With distracted driving, your eyes are completely off the road," says Eric Nerness, vice president of claims operations at USAA. "And, often, there is no time for braking or other action to mitigate the impact."

Cellphone use is still considered one of the most widespread threats to road safety. But any behavior that takes your eyes, hands and mind off your driving should be avoided.

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