When people think of distracted driving, they usually think of someone texting at the wheel. What these people may not realize is that there are multiple kinds of distractions that affect drivers, and texting just happens to be both incredibly common and a perfect confluence of the three different categories of distraction.
In other words, texting is a perfect storm of distraction that can leave someone unable to react quickly enough to prevent a crash from happening, creating both risk and liability for the results of the crash.
What are the 3 kinds of distraction?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can break distractions into three main categories. Visual distraction involves taking your eyes off of the road in front of you. The second kind of distraction is manual distraction. As you can probably guess from the name, manual distraction occurs when you take your hands off the wheel.
Even taking one hand off the wheel can increase your reaction time by forcing you to readjust your hand position, but taking both hands off the wheel is exceptionally dangerous. Although some people think they can drive safely with their knees, you need your hands to maneuver properly when traffic situations change abruptly.
The third kind of distraction is cognitive or mental distraction, and it occurs when you start thinking about something other than the task of driving. Daydreaming is arguably the most common kind of cognitive distraction, although singing along to the radio, having intense conversations with passengers and texting are all also forms of cognitive distraction.
How texting combines 3 kinds of distraction for a worst-case scenario
The second that your phone pings while you drive, your mind is probably focused more on whatever message you just received than on getting to your destination safely. Even before you pick up your phone, your mind will be overrun with thoughts of who might have sent the message and what it could contain.
When you reach for your phone, you take at least one hand off the wheel, and you will probably have to take both hands off the wheel to open or respond to a message. Finally, looking at your phone to read a message or glancing down as you compose one will take your eyes off the road, drastically increasing the risk that you will not notice changes in traffic around you and dramatically increasing your reaction time.
Keeping your phone out of reach and turning off the ringer prior to getting behind the wheel is key to limiting the distraction your phone creates in the car.