The common drawbacks of distraction (and how to beat it)

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June GO Challenge:

Limit distractions (before you go).

If you’re like a lot of people these days, you’re always on the go — driving to work, picking up groceries, hauling kids to practice ... But being busy isn’t a license for being unsafe. How often do you catch yourself using a cell phone in traffic? Eating behind the wheel? Even walking down the street with your nose buried in a smartphone?

While you may think it’s okay to multitask on the move, you’re really just asking for trouble. According to studies, driver distraction is a factor in 80% of crashes, with most accidents occurring within 3 seconds of the distraction. The simple act of talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of being in an accident. And texting while driving increases your risk by more than 23 times!

But the dangers aren’t limited to just drivers. Distracted walkers and bikers who use cell phones are at risk, too. And cell phones aren’t the only form of distraction. Common driver hazards include:

  • Cellphones — talking, texting, social media
  • Eating and drinking
  • Grooming
  • Adjusting the radio or other controls
  • GPS/maps
  • Smoking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Searching through your purse/wallet
  • Road rage
  • Attending to passengers/pets
  • Daydreaming
  • Reaching for fallen objects

Pay attention while you drive, walk and bike. If you catch yourself engaged in any distracting behaviors — stop immediately. Redirect your focus to the road.

7 tips for a safer trip.

What’s the best way to avoid driver distractions? Eliminate them before you go. Here are 7 safeguards you can take upfront to remove potential hazards down the road:

  • Call before you leave. If you’re waiting to make calls while en route, DON’T. One study showed that the mere act of listening while driving reduced driving-related brain activity by 37%. According to the study, mental distraction alone was enough to cause drivers to weave out of their lane; hands-free devices did not eliminate the distraction.       
  • Put your cellphone away. Silence/turn off your cellphone and banish it to the backseat. You can also use smartphone apps that help prevent distracted driving by silencing incoming texts and calls, sending auto-replies, and notifying parents if the app is turned off.
  • Plan your route first. Input your GPS settings or study any maps before you leave. As much as possible, know where you’re going ahead of time. And if you’re lost, pull off the road (when it’s safe) to get your bearings.
  • Eliminate worries. Make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip. Eat, primp, visit the bathroom, and pack anything you might need for the road. Also be sure your car is gassed up and properly serviced so you’re not distracted by dashboard warning lights while driving. 
  • Secure kids and pets. Buckle up any children and provide them with activities (books, toys, quiet games) to keep them busy. Pets should be secured in a pet carrier, not loose in the vehicle where they can crawl under your feet.
  • Know your controls. Familiarize yourself with your car’s headlights, windshield wipers, cruise control and other switches before you ever step on the gas, especially if you’re driving a different car for the first time. Also be sure to adjust the mirrors, seat and steering wheel while you’re still parked.
  • Use presets. If you’re going to listen to the radio or an MP3 player, make the process as distraction-free as possible by presetting your favorite stations or customizing a playlist in advance. And always keep the volume low enough to hear sirens, car horns or other approaching dangers.                                                    

Be alert: Special tips for walkers and bikers.

Just because you’re on foot (or on a bike) doesn’t mean you’re safe from the dangers of distraction. Today, even a simple walk down the street is apt to involve using a smartphone — or “bumping into” someone who is. More than half of all adult cell phone owners say they’ve been in a “distracted walking” incident. And since 2004, the number of pedestrians injured while using cell phones has more than doubled.

Are you on the road to becoming a statistic? Here are some precautions you can take to make your next walk or bike ride safer:

  • Don’t wear headphones. This is a hard habit to break, but the only truly safe place to wear headphones is indoors. They’re fine if you’re on a treadmill, but the minute you go outside, headphones compromise your hearing and draw your attention away from potential hazards. Leave them at home and listen to nature instead.  
  • Silence your cellphone. It’s okay to bring a cellphone with you for safety, but never use it while walking or biking — especially at a busy intersection! If you must use your phone, pause and step away from pedestrian traffic flow.
  • Leave your reading at home. Walking down the street is no time to be perusing social media or reading something. Always keep your head up, especially near curbs, intersections, steps and escalators. The only things you should ever read while walking or biking are traffic signals and signs.
  • Make eye contact before crossing. At an intersection, don’t cross until you’ve made eye contact with the driver. It’s possible they haven’t seen you yet.   
  • Never assume you have the right of way or that a car will stop. All too often, drivers overlook pedestrians and even bikers. So even though you have the right of way, it’s better to assume all drivers are distracted until proven otherwise.
  • Pay attention. Always be aware of your surroundings, stay focused, and don’t get lost in thought — particularly in parking lots or during the winter months when it gets dark earlier and drivers may not see you.
  • Beware of group outings. If you’re going to be walking with others, remind yourself to stay alert. Don’t just follow others blindly into danger or be so distracted by conversation that you miss the hazard right in front of you. You’re responsible for your own safety.