A man uses his cell phone while driving on a bright afternoon.

6 Alarming Facts: Why We Need to Talk About Distracted Driving

A man uses his cell phone while driving on a bright afternoon.

6 Alarming Facts: Why We Need to Talk About Distracted Driving

April is Distracted Driving month, and we’ve compiled six alarming stats that will make you think twice before you reach for a phone while behind the wheel.

A glance at the phone or a quick reach for a snack can seem harmless. That is, until it’s paired with the one activity that already requires your most intense visual, manual, and cognitive attention: driving. Statistics show that distracted driving is one of the primary culprits in road deaths. And curiously, the definition of “distracted” is broader than you’d think. We should be talking about it, and what better time than Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

40,000 people were killed on the road in 2017, and that’s up 6% since 2015.

Forty thousand is a scary number in itself, and scarier still when you break it down: around 100 people per day, or four people every hour. That’s how many humans are dying due to vehicle related incidents. Importantly, many of these are preventable. Here’s why:

One in four crashes involve cell phone usage.

It’s no secret that cell phones are one of the biggest distractors. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that around one in four crashes involve phone usage. At any given time, around 7% of drivers are on their phones while they’re driving. But of course, not many drivers are likely to confess as much. That means reporting is low and we can expect that these figures are probably much higher.

A woman applies lipstick in the rearview mirror of a car while driving to work on an early morning.
Source: Adobe Stock

But it’s not just looking at your phone – anything that distracts you is a threat.

Driving is an exceptionally detailed and focus-dependent activity. To keep the car on the road, your brain needs you in every way: visually (eyes on the road), manually (hands on the wheel), and cognitively (mind on the task). That means anything that compromises your full attention is dangerous. We’re talking about snacking, reaching for wallets, beautifying yourself in the mirror, shifting focus to passing scenery, stressing over your day. Why? Because:

When it comes to driving, multitasking is a myth.

We ask a lot of our brain and the truth is, it can’t always deliver. It’s a brilliant organ, but science has proven that it is quite literally unable to multitask and perform both tasks well. It can toggle between, but it needs time to make that switch. That results in a slowed reaction time. So the next time you’re overly demanding of your brain’s facilities, remember it’s only human.

There’s a reason texting is the worst (even at stop lights).

A woman in a suit texts with one hand while the other hand is on the steering wheel during the daytime.
Source: Adobe Stock

Texting involves every function that your brain desperately needs to keep the car on the road: visual, manual and cognitive. But you need all those functions to drive the car. Even if you’re stationary at a stop light, texting is still your worst enemy. That’s because even after you send a text, your brain remains distracted for up to 27 seconds. And remember, at 55 mph it only takes five seconds for your car to cover the length of an entire football field.

Your hands-free device isn’t necessarily your best friend.

The distracted brain is a complex beast. The area that processes moving images is slowed by up to one third when listening or talking on the phone. The NSC’s research shows that hands-free devices cause drivers to “look” but not actually “see.” Otherwise known as “inattention blindness,” it’s much like what happens with tunnel vision. The driver only catches around 50% of their environment, such that a crossing pedestrian could easily be overlooked.

If you’re ready to drive distraction-free, we’ve compiled 7 helpful tips to stay safe behind the wheel. You can also take the National Safety Council’s pledge to drive cell phone free here.