What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.
This article will cover the top techniques you can use to scan the road, ensure a safe following distance, and allow adequate stopping distance to help you reduce your risk of a crash.
Scanning the Road
To be a defensive driver, you must see what’s going on. The best way to spot potential trouble is by scanning. Avoid a fixed, straight-ahead stare that may let you drift off into daydreams while on the road. We are all subject to many distractions while driving, both inside and outside the motor vehicle, which can reduce a driver’s concentration on the driving task.
Inside your vehicle, devices such as cellular phones and stereos can interfere with driving. Reaching for a ringing phone, searching for your tunes, eating, and reading (i.e., maps or directions) can increase the potential for a traffic crash. Even conversation between vehicle occupants is a driving distraction.
- Look ahead: Good drivers keep an eye on what’s happening about 10 to 12 seconds ahead. That’s about a block in city driving
- Look to the sides: As you approach any place where other cars, people, or animals may cross your path, look to both sides
- Look behind: Check the traffic behind you frequently (several times a minute) so you’ll know if somebody is tailgating, coming up too fast, or trying to pass
- Be aware of blind spots: These are areas near the left and right rear corners of your vehicle that are not visible in your mirrors (never rely on your mirrors alone)
Maintain a Safe Following Distance
A safe following distance is a minimum of two (some states suggest three) seconds of space that you should maintain in front of your vehicle.
- It should take at least two seconds (by counting “one thousand and two…”) for the front of your car to reach the same checkpoint as the car in front of you. Based on the GVWR of your vehicle and the current road conditions, you may need to add additional seconds to ensure safe following distance
Dealing with a Tailgater
Drivers being tailgated are advised to slow down to encourage the tailgating driver to pass. If possible, change lanes and allow the tailgater to pass. If the tailgater persists, go to a well-lit public place or police station and pull off the road.
If a crash is inevitable, letting off the brake in some instances (make sure no car is in front of you and you are not at an intersection) might also ease the force of the impact.
Try not to let other drivers intimidate you by closely tailgating you and possibly blowing their horn. Not everyone is patient or considerate of other people’s travel plans.
Stopping Distance in Relation to Speed
Any regular passenger vehicle traveling at a speed of 20 MPH should be able to stop within a distance of 25 feet. Heavier vehicles and vehicles traveling in combination with other vehicles (towing) have longer stopping distances. Yet, remember that having stopping distance between vehicles is the best braking device.
The four parts to stopping distance are Perception Distance (1) + Reaction Distance (2) + Braking Distance (3) = Total Stopping Distance (4).
- Perception Distance (1) – This is the distance your vehicle travels from the time your eyes see a hazard until your brain recognizes it (from your eyes to your brain)
- Reaction Distance (2) – The distance traveled from the time your brain tells your foot to move from the accelerator until your foot is actually pushing the brake pedal (from your eyes to your foot)
- Braking Distance (3) – The distance it takes to stop once the brake is pressed (from your foot to your muscle input)
- Total Stopping Distance (4) – At 55 MPH, it will take about six seconds to stop; and your vehicle will travel about the distance of a football field
As speed increases, so do all the above elements. Whenever you double your speed, it takes about four times as much distance to stop, and your vehicle will have four times the destructive power if it crashes.
For further tips on how to avoid distracted driving, please click the link on the following video by AAA Driver Training, The Challenge of Distracted Driving.