Distractions were responsible for vehicle crashes leading to 3,179 deaths and 431,000 injuries in 2014, according to the most recent data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Driving distractions come in all forms. A few examples are:
- Using a handheld or hands-free cell phone
- Conversing with passengers
- Using a navigation system (GPS)
- Personal grooming
The use of electronic devices are among the most well-known and common sources of distraction for drivers. Text messaging behind the wheel is one of the riskiest behaviors a driver can do as it involves manual, visual, and mental distraction simultaneously. Any kind of cell phone use can be risky. There is a public misperception that using a hands-free cell phone reduces risk but research states otherwise.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently completed groundbreaking research finding that mental distraction by itself dangerously affects drivers behind the wheel. The research showed that hands-free features, increasingly common in new vehicles, are actually among the most mentally distracting. Just because a drivers' eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel does not mean that they are safely focusing on driving.
Download our brochure, “Distractions in Everyday Driving” for tips and best practices for handling both the obvious and not so obvious distractions that can get a driver into trouble or a crash.
Distracted Driving Videos & Studies
Tips to Avoid Driving Distracted
Don’t touch that dial. Adjust seat positions, climate controls, sound systems, and other devices before you leave or while the vehicle is stopped. Know how your controls work, so if you must adjust something on the fly, you’ll be less distracted. Use presets for radio and climate control, or have your passenger assist you.
Stop to eat or drink. Drive-through windows and giant cup holders make it tempting to have a meal while driving, but you’re safer when you stop to eat or drink. Reducing your risk will be worth the time you spend.
Pull over to a safe place to talk on the phone, or send text messages or emails. Cell phones can be a great resource for getting help or reporting trouble. But, whether you use a handheld phone or a hands-free device, talking while driving causes you to take your mind off the task at hand (and sometimes your eyes and hands, too). Your best bet is to pull off the road to a safe spot before you use your phone to talk, text, or surf the web. Be careful, because stopping on the road can be very dangerous. Find a safe area away from traffic. Learn how your phone’s controls work in case an emergency call while driving is unavoidable. And practice good habits: Turn your phone off before you drive, so you won’t be tempted to answer calls on the road.
Plan ahead. Check directions and traffic conditions before you leave, so you'll be prepared for your journey. If you have a GPS, enter your destination information before departing, and pull over to a safe place if you need to make changes or review maps or route guidance. If possible, use a passenger as your navigator and assistant. Don’t multitask and drive. Driving is complicated enough -- you’ll become distracted if you do other things, too. Don’t use the vehicle’s mirrors for personal grooming when the vehicle is in motion. Don’t try to read or write while you’re behind the wheel. Just drive. Pull over to care for children. Change the baby, feed the kids, and buckle them into their vehicle seats before you leave. If you need to attend to them, pull over in a safe place -- don’t try to handle children while you’re driving.
Help teens identify and reduce distractions. New drivers face a big challenge behind the wheel; in fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that for every mile they drive, teens are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers. Additionally, crash risk increases with the number of passengers. Parents must model safe driving behaviors, and can teach teens to limit distractions and focus on the road.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Distracted Driving Research
Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Examine Teen Driver Behaviors Present in Motor Vehicle Crashes
A follow-on naturalistic study was conducted of teen drivers ages 16-19 involved in vehicle crashes between August 2013 and April 2015. There were 538 crashes during this interval, supplementing the original report's 1,691 teen driver crashes. Distraction-related, teen driver crashes due to cell phone use appear to be much more prevalent than is reflected in official government statistics.
Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile
his research represents the third phase of the Foundation’s comprehensive investigation into cognitive distraction, which shows that new hands-free technologies can mentally distract drivers even if their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel.
The Smartphone and the Driver’s Cognitive Workload: A Comparison of Apple, Google, and Microsoft’s Intelligent Personal Assistants
This research examines the impact of voice-based interactions using three different intelligent personal assistants (Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now for Android phones, and Microsoft’s Cortana) on the cognitive workload of the driver.
Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Assess the Prevalence of Environmental Factors and Driver Behaviors in Teen Driver Crashes
In this study, we conducted a large-scale comprehensive examination of naturalistic data from thousands of actual crashes involving teenage drivers. The data allowed us to examine behaviors and potential contributing factors in the seconds leading up to the collision, and provided information not available inpolice reports.
Measuring Cognitive Distractions
In this landmark study of distracted driving, the AAA Foundation challenges the notion that drivers are safe and attentive as long as their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel. Using cutting-edge methods for measuring brain activity and assessing indicators of driving performance, this research examines the mind of the driver, and highlights the mental distractions caused by a variety of tasks that may be performed behind the wheel.
Measuring Cognitive Distraction: Part II (2 New Reports)
Utilizes the mental workload rating system and scale published in part 1 (June 2013) to explore the cognitive distraction caused by additional tasks, technologies, and -- for the first time—proprietary systems.
Cognitive Distraction: Something to Think About
A compendium of lessons learned from recent studies.
Distracted and Risk-Prone Drivers
Distracted driving remains a significant and high-profile traffic safety concern, with cell phone use and text messaging among its most visible manifestations. This report presents the latest data on distracted driving from the 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index, and examines select findings of self-reported behaviors and attitudes in the Index concluding that distracted driving may simply be one manifestation of risk-prone driving more broadly.
- Drivers spend more than half their time focused on things other than driving.
- Distraction contributes to more than 5,000 traffic fatalities each year.
- Texting and phone calls aren’t the only distractions. Passengers, eating, and in-car technologies can also cause distractions.
- Distracting events include “latency”. Texting while stopped at a traffic light can negatively affect full driving engagement once the light turns green for an average of 27 seconds after you’ve stopped texting.
- In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
- Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.
- Drivers in their 20s are 23 percent of drivers in all fatal crashes, but are 27 percent of the distracted drivers and 38 percent of the distracted drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes.
- At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
- One-third of drivers admitted to texting while driving, and three-quarters saying they’ve seen others do it.