Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Distracted driving: Just don't do it

4/28/2022 by Rachael Passmore, D.O.


The statistics are staggering. Distracted driving causes more than 3,000 fatalities and an estimated 424,000 injuries each year in the U.S. alone. About 1 in 5 victims of auto crashes involving a distracted driver are outside of the vehicle. 

Distracted driving is defined as anything that takes your attention off the road. 

Driver distraction has four main types: 

  • Manual 
    Manipulating something other than the steering wheel. 
  • Visual 
    Looking at something other than the road. 
  • Auditory 
    Hearing something not related to driving. 
  • Cognitive
    Thinking about something other than driving. 

Many people think of cellphone use as the sole form of distracted driving, but other examples of distracted driving that put yourself and your passengers, and pedestrians, at risk include: 

  • Adjusting your rear-view mirror to check on backseat passengers. 
  • Styling your hair. 
  • Putting on makeup. 
  • Eating. 
  • Changing temperature controls. 
  • Following your GPS navigation. 
  • Driving while angry or crying. 

It's important to remember modern cellphone use isn't just texting anymore. Drivers also use their phones to snap pictures, record video, chat or video chat. What makes cellphone use while driving so dangerous is that it involves not just manual distraction, but also visual and cognitive distraction. 

Every person is at risk of being a victim of a distracted driving accident, even those who don't drive. Therefore, it's important to focus on awareness of this issue, identify ways to combat it, and make personal pledges to stop distracted driving behaviors. 

Certain age groups are more likely to drive distracted or be involved in fatal accidents because of distracted driving. According to 2018 data, 25% of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes were age 19-20. Drivers age 15-19 were more likely to be distracted at the time of a fatal crash, compared with all other age groups. 

But what can be done to prevent and stop distracted driving? 

For those with teens or novice drivers, the importance of distracted driving must be emphasized by having open and honest discussions about it. Also, clear rules and expectations should be set for teens — both when they drive and when they are passengers in a vehicle. Emphasize that driving is a skill that requires their full attention, so those texts and phone calls can wait. 

An excellent resource to refer to is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) distracted driving tools, including a parent-teen driving contract outlining expectations and potential consequences of distracted driving. It should be noted that violating this driving contract might not just lead to potential penalization from parents. Most U.S. states have enacted graduated driver licensing laws regarding the use of cellphones by teens and novice drivers. Violating these laws potentially involves legal consequences, as well. 

It's important to set a good example for your children when you are behind the wheel. Talking or texting on the phone while driving sends a hypocritical "Do as I say, not as I do" message to them that sticks with them later. Instead, designate cars as "no phone zones" and speak out whenever a driver in a nearby car seems distracted. 

You also can set limits on yourself and young drivers by using cellphone blocking technology — most often in the form of a smartphone app. These apps all have the basic technology to prohibit calls or texts while a vehicle is in motion, with many offering more advanced features. Don't worry, as these blocks have no affect when using your phone as a passenger, riding public transportation or other situations. 

While multitasking is a constant part of life, it shouldn't occur while operating a vehicle. Resist the urge to do anything but drive when you are behind the wheel. By remaining focused on the road with both hands on the wheel, you are doing everything you can to keep yourself and everyone in and around your vehicle safe from becoming the victim of a distracted driving accident. 

Rachael Passmore, D.O., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Department of Family Medicine in Rochester. She completed her medical degree at Des Moines University and her residency in family medicine at Baylor College of Medicine Family Medicine Residency in Garland, Texas. Her research interests include preventive care and integrative medicine.