Would You Drive With Your Eyes Shut?


Content provided courtesy of USAA.

Driving with your eyes closed would be crazy, right? But that's pretty much what you do if you text on the highway.

When you send or open a text while driving, you're taking your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At 55 mph, that's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field — blindfolded.

But texting isn't the only activity behind the wheel that can interfere with your ability to drive safely. Snacking, adjusting your GPS, disciplining children and numerous other distractions can put you at risk for an accident.

Multitasking while driving has deadly consequences: In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes.

Driver Distractions

According to the NHTSA, you're a distracted driver when you:

  • Take your hands off the wheel.
  • Take your eyes off the road.
  • Take your mind off driving.

Because texting combines all of the above, it is one of the most dangerous types of distracted driving. For example, studies from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that drivers of heavy commercial vehicles are 23 times more likely to wreck while texting compared to those driving without distraction. According to 2012 data from the CTIA, an international nonprofit membership organization that represents the wireless communications industry, U.S. consumers send and receive an average of six billion text messages every day — that's 69,635 text messages every second.

Chat and Crash

Talking on the phone isn't much better. And you don't get off the hook for using a hands-free device. Virginia Tech found that hands-free devices are overrated because they don't prevent the most dangerous part of a call: dialing or answering the phone. And even if you manage to safely navigate those, you're still in peril as your mind focuses on your discussion, not the road.

According to the National Safety Council, any kind of cell phone use while driving requires the brain to multitask and lessens its ability to pay attention to driving. NSC research shows drivers who use cell phones have a tendency to "look at" but not "see" up to 50% of the information in their driving environment.

The NSC estimates more than 1 in 4 vehicle crashes involves cell phone use. Of the fatal crashes in which distracted driving was reported, 18% involved cell phones, according to the NHTSA's most recent statistics.

Too Much Going on Behind the Wheel

While text messages and phone calls are big contributors, drivers can lose their focus in a plethora of ways:

  • Other technologies. These include CDs, iPods and radios, as well as navigation, climate-control and DVD systems.
  • Food and drinks. While many states have outlawed texting or talking on a hand-held phone, it's still legal in many places to drive with a soda in one hand and a burger in the other.
  • Children. If you find yourself trying to reason with a testy teenager or make peace among combative siblings, keep everyone safe and pull over.
  • Pets. Letting your dog ride in the front seat sounds fun — until Sparky knocks your hand off the wheel or uses a paw to hit the brake or step on the gas.
  • Grooming. We've all scoffed at people applying makeup or shaving in the middle of traffic, but have you ever combed your hair or put on lipstick behind the wheel on a rushed day?
  • Smoking. Still more ways it's hazardous to your health: reaching for smokes, fumbling with a lighter, or dropping a lit cigarette on your lap.
  • Rubbernecking. This includes everything from gawking at another motorist's mishap to enjoying the scenery.

A Ban on Texting

Because texting is so dangerous, 41 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have outlawed it while driving, while some cities and states have targeted texting by teens or drivers in certain areas, such as school zones.

States also take a variety of approaches to cell phones, with 41 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws banning text messaging while driving.

To check out your state's rules on distracted driving, visit the Transportation Department's distraction.gov website.

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