Most of us have been momentarily distracted while driving. Searching for a favorite radio station, dealing with a food spill, and looking for toll money are common distractions. We understand that these kinds of actions are distracting because they take our eyes off the road. But looking away from the road is just one type of distraction. According to the CDC there are three:
- Visual distraction: taking your eyes off the road.
- Manual distraction: taking one or both hands off the steering wheel.
- Cognitive distraction: taking your mind off your driving.
Most drivers are aware of visual distraction. On the other hand, manual distraction leaves the driver ill prepared to cope with an emergency situation such as when the car ahead veers out of control. However, few people know of or fully appreciate the dangers of cognitive distraction.
Many of us are familiar with the absent-minded professor type. This is the person whose thoughts are always elsewhere. He’ll salt and pepper his coffee and put sugar on his eggs in the morning and then head off to work with his shirt worn inside out. This person is cognitively distracted. This seems harmless enough until the person gets in his car. His distracted mind sets him up for an accident when the unexpected happens.
Cognitive distraction is the reason why using hands-free cell phones while driving is dangerous. While they prevent visual and manual distraction, they don’t prevent cognitive distraction. If you are fully engaged with the person on the phone, little of your mind is directed at your driving. Another effect of cognitive distraction is that it causes partial blindness. This is called inattention blindness. Using any kind of cell phone while driving can cause the driver to become blind to up to 50% of the traffic scene in front of her.
This occurs because the brain doesn’t have the capacity to process both the phone conversation and the visual signals from the eyes at the same time. By choosing to focus on the conversation, many details of the road such as a pedestrian crossing the street don’t register in the mind. The pedestrian and other parts of the road scene vanish.
Daydreaming, solving work related problems in your head, mentally reviewing interview questions, or emotional focus on an argument are all dangerously distracting when driving. If you find controlling your thoughts difficult, try displacing them with other thoughts. That is, think about your driving. Become a defensive driver by actively engaging your mind in the effort. This reduces your risk of an accident and of making auto insurance claims that can increase your premium rates.
For more information about driving safety and other tips on keeping your premium rates low, please contact us.