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Tips for keeping distracted driving at bay

November 4, 2016
The holiday season is a time for long road trips to visit family and friends, but without taking the right precautions, it can be very risky.

American motorists are on track to set a new record for the most miles driven this year, and many of them are likely to come over the months of November and December. The holiday season is a time for long road trips to visit family and friends, but without taking the right precautions, it can be very risky.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 3,000 people were killed and 431,000 injured due to car accidents involving a distracted driver in 2014. That means about 9 percent of the nearly 33,000 traffic fatalities recorded that year may have been a result of a driver who was distracted by his or her cell phone, GPS, eating or otherwise focusing on a task other than driving. Many incidents of distracted driving also can happen due to a lack of sleep or spending too long at the wheel without taking a break.

These events wouldn't be so common if drivers did not overestimate their ability to multitask, or if they simply waited a few minutes and drove to a safe parking area. But still, a demanding schedule and the hectic nature of the holidays often gets the better of us.

Before leaving for you next road trip, take a moment to understand why drivers become distracted and how to prevent these common mistakes from leading to an accident.

Understand the risks

While the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from distraction are just a tiny fraction of the millions of Americans who drive safely every day, these routine actions can have a serious impact in less than a moment's notice. After all, a car traveling 55 miles per hour covers the length of a football field in less than five seconds. That's just enough time to send a text or take a glance at a map, and it doesn't sound harmless. But if you imagine driving a car that fast while blindfolded, even for five seconds, most would not take that risk.

Unfortunately, with the high level of technology found in cars today, there may be more distractions than ever before. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that even with the hands?-free technology that comes standard on many cars now, drivers can still find themselves distracted. To stay focused, keep the following in mind:

  • Limit screen time:  Many cars now have high-end displays situated in the center console for navigation, climate control or operating the sound system. Some of these functions can be operated without looking away from the road. But when it comes to more engaging activities, like typing in an address, drivers should make sure to do these before leaving the driveway or parking lot.
  • Eating and drinking:  Taking just one hand off the steering wheel can seriously affect your ability to control a car, and can make it harder to avoid an accident. Use cupholders if you need to keep a beverage nearby, or simply wait to take a rest stop and eat in a restaurant rather than in the car.
  • Keep talking and loud music to a minimum when navigating a tricky road or dealing with heavy traffic.

Driving while drowsy

Sleepiness and fatigue may also be a major factor in many distracted driving incidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated at least 72,000 accidents in 2013 were the result of drivers who were tired or sleep-deprived. As most of us know, driving tired can be nerve-wracking, but sometimes it's just unavoidable.

Before getting behind the wheel, take some basic tips into account to prevent drowsy driving:

  • The most straightforward way to avoid drowsy driving is to get enough sleep the night before. Adults should aim for seven hours of sleep every day. If you are finding it difficult to maintain a good sleep schedule, you may want to see a doctor.
  • On long trips, take a short break every two hours if possible. It's best if you can travel with two or more people and rotate driving duties regularly. Be sure at least one other person besides the driver is awake at all times, and ask them to pull over if you think they might be tired.
  • Drivers who start yawning frequently or are having trouble staying in a lane cannot hesitate to get to safety. Find a safe place to park and try to take a brief nap if possible. Even better, plan ahead of time to stop at a hotel or family member's home halfway through a long journey.

During the holidays, sometimes you just have to get where you're going in a short amount of time. Just be sure to stay safe and arrive in good health when you are doing so.