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Tips to Avoid Driving Distractions

Distracted driving is dangerous. Follow our tips to help keep you focused on safety while driving.

Put it down, put it away, and save your life and the lives of others.

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All the high-tech gadgets that help simplify modern life—navigation systems, mobile phones, and other devices—also make it increasingly hard for drivers to stay safe behind the wheel.

In 2012 alone, more than 3,300 people in the United States were killed—and some 421,000 more were injured—because drivers chose to pay attention to a text message, a phone call, or something else other than the road ahead.

Even if you wait until you’re at a stoplight to make a hands-free phone call, you’re not as safe as you think. A study sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows distractions from in-vehicle messaging persist long after the message ends. 

Test subjects needed up to 27 seconds to fully refocus on driving after ending a hands-free call or sending a text message using a voice-controlled system. These lingering distractions, known as residual costs, were determined by measuring participants’ reaction times to potential hazards as they drove on suburban roads.

Here’s how to help keep yourself focused on the right thing: safe driving.

Put Distractions Out of Reach

Remember the good old days when folks waited until they got home to make calls? Silence your phone and put it out of reach while you’re driving and you’ll be less tempted to check your email or answer incoming calls or texts. Nothing is more important—to you or anyone on the line—than your safe arrival.

Plan Ahead to Avoid Multitasking

Too many people wait until they get behind the wheel to apply makeup, shave, or eat a meal, notes AAA automotive safety expert William Van Tassel. You’ll be safer on the road if you do these things at home or once you reach your destination, he says.

Prep Young Passengers

Responsible parents always check that small children are safely secured in their car seats or booster seats. But it’s also important to make sure little ones have toys and snacks to keep them entertained in transit. If kids need attention during the drive, be sure to pull over to the side of the road.

Remember That Hands Free Isn’t Risk Free

A recent AAA driving study found that composing a text message with a voice-activated device is even more distracting than talking on a handheld phone. Trying to find your way with a voice-based navigation system can be an even worse hazard. Pulling over to look at a map—whether paper or electronic—is still the safest way to check your bearings.

Get Defensive

In this age of distraction, Van Tassel recommends watching for warning signs that the drivers around you aren’t paying attention. His advice: If a driver drifts within the lane, changes speed willy-nilly, or has a phone stuck to his or her ear, give that car plenty of space and don’t try to pass.

Additional reporting by Rob Bhatt.

Figure out how much auto insurance you really need by speaking with an expert at AAA.

This article was first published in Spring 2015 and updated in March 2019. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.