What Are the Main Types of Driver Distractions? 

woman on phone while driving

In a single year, more than 3,100 people were killed and close to 424,000 people were injured in distracted driving car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that distracted driving is a factor in at least one-quarter of all vehicle crashes.

When you think of distracted driving, you probably think of someone with one hand on their mobile phone and the other on the wheel. However, there are three types of distractions that keep drivers’ eyes and mind off the road and their hands off the wheel. All are as dangerous as texting and driving. 

This discussion reviews the three types of distractions that increase the risk of deadly vehicle and pedestrian collisions. 

Why Distracted Driving Is So Dangerous

Society moves so fast; it seems like we are always multitasking in some way or another. If you are catching up on your favorite podcast while you fold laundry or phoning a friend while grocery shopping, multitasking is not a big deal. However, when a driver’s attention is diverted from any of the tasks involved with driving, the results can be devastating. 

To understand why this behavior is so unsafe, let us take the example of one of the most common distractions: texting while driving. 

It takes around five seconds to read or send a text. If you are driving 55 miles per hour while sending that text, that is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. Would you want to be crossing the street with that distracted driver coming toward you? 

The Three Types of Distractions

Distractions are classified in three ways:

Cognitive distractions. Have you ever been driving with another person and realized you missed a turn or exit because you were deep in conversation? If you answered yes, you have experienced a cognitive distraction. 

Cognitive distractions include any activity that takes your mind off driving. These distractions are not as obvious because drivers are otherwise doing everything right. Their hands are on the wheel, and they are watching the road. 

But if your thoughts are absorbed in the audio book or chat with a passenger, you are not fully concentrating on driving and you are not as alert. 

Examples of cognitive distractions include: 

  • Having a hands-free phone conversation 
  • Talking to another passenger
  • Listening to a podcast or audio book 
  • Daydreaming 

Manual distractions. Manual distractions include activities that take your hands off the wheel for any amount of time during driving. Again, drivers may assume these tasks are harmless as long as they can do them while still watching the road. 

However, without both hands on the wheel, the driver’s ability to steer and react to situations are compromised. Let us say you are driving home after work at night. You hit the drive-through on the way home for a late dinner. 

As you reach over to grab your sandwich out of the bag, you notice a large piece of debris in the roadway. It takes a full second to put your other hand on the wheel. In that second, you can crash into the object or veer off the road or into oncoming traffic. Driving with both hands on the wheel is the best and safest way to maintain control of the vehicle at all times. 

Examples of manual distractions include the following: 

  • Eating 
  • Drinking 
  • Smoking 
  • Taking off a coat or jacket 
  • Brushing one’s hair 
  • Putting on makeup 
  • Adjusting the temperature or radio
  • Getting something from a purse or wallet
  • Picking up something that has fallen

Visual distractions. Visual distractions are most commonly associated with distracted driving because they are obviously dangerous. Vision is the most important sense we use to drive. Our eyes enable us to position our vehicle, assess our speed, and gauge our surroundings to maneuver our vehicle. 

A driver who is not continually assessing their surroundings cannot react or respond appropriately or safely to traffic changes and hazards. As the example above explains, driving without watching the road is like driving blindfolded. 

Examples of visual distractions include: 

  • Looking at the dashboard display screen
  • Looking at a GPS system 
  • Looking at another passenger 
  • Looking anywhere but ahead and around the vehicle 

What about Texting and Driving?

You may wonder why texting and driving is not included in the driving distractions listed above. That is because texting and driving involves more than a single type of distraction. This activity incorporates all three types of distractions.

When you are looking down at your phone, thinking about what to say, and typing out your message, you create a literal triple-threat risk to you and those around you.

Who Is Most Likely to Drive Distracted?

The CDC assessed data for distracted driving accidents across the United States and uncovered patterns that show the drivers who are more likely to engage in this risky behavior. They found that drivers ages 15 to 20 were more likely to drive distracted than drivers 21 and older. Among these drivers, nine percent were distracted at the time of their accident. 

Another study of high school students in the United States from the same year uncovered similar trends. In that study, 39 percent of students admitted emailing or texting while driving at least once in the previous 30 days. 

Students who texted and drove were more likely to engage in other unsafe driving habits such as not wearing a seat belt, riding with a driver who had consumed alcohol, or consuming alcohol themselves before driving. A closer look at drivers in this age group suggests distracted driving is more common among teens 17 to 18 than drivers ages 14 to 16. 

Penalties for Distracted Driving in Maryland

Although Maryland laws do not address the many potential distractions that pose a risk to motorists, they are clear about the penalties for using a handheld cell phone and texting while driving. 

The law states: A driver of a motor vehicle that is in motion may not use the driver’s hands to use a handheld telephone other than to initiate or terminate a wireless telephone call or to turn on or turn off the handheld telephone.

Penalties include the following: 

  • Maximum of $83 fine for first-time offenders
  • Maximum of $140 fine for second-time offenders 
  • Maximum of $160 fine of third-time offenders 
  • Fine of $70 and one point for writing, sending, or reading a text or email while driving 
  • Fine of $110 and three points if mobile phone use contributes to an accident 
  • Fines up to $5,000 and up to three years in jail if mobile phone uses cause serious injury or death in an accident

Note that there are exceptions to Maryland’s texting while driving laws. Motorists are not penalized for using the phone to call 911, police, fire, ambulance, and other emergency calls. 

It is understandably tempting to try to accomplish extra tasks while driving. But remember it only takes two or three seconds of distraction to cause a devastating car accident. Imagine someone you love has suffered personal injury or killed by a distracted driver. If you consider the issue from that perspective, you will probably agree that text or email can wait until you pull over and park your vehicle. 

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Seriously Injured by Distracted Drivers

Even if you take every precaution to be a safe driver every day on every trip, you are at risk of being injured by another driver who may not be as responsible. If you or someone you care about was seriously injured by a negligent driver, contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Collectively, our team has more than 30 years of experience achieving positive outcomes for clients just like you. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.