Five Common Misconceptions About Distracted Driving

traffic safety

Distracted driving is extremely dangerous. Most of us know this based on experience, whether from news stories, accounts from friends and loved ones, close calls, or accidents we’ve been in ourselves. But beyond anecdotal evidence, we have hard facts to back up that assertion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that over 3,500 people were killed as a result of distracted driving in 2021 alone – around 8% of all traffic fatalities. That is an enormous toll, especially when you consider that those deaths could have been prevented by eliminating distractions.

Although most people acknowledge that distracted driving is risky, there are also several misconceptions about distracted driving that seem to be relatively common among drivers. In this article, we’ll examine those misconceptions and refute them once and for all. Let’s jump right in.

Misconception #1 – It’s Only a Distraction If You Look Away From the Road

When we think about driving distractions, it’s easy to go to the obvious examples. Texting while driving, eating while driving, doing a crossword puzzle while driving – OK, hopefully that last one isn’t particularly obvious. These are all examples of distractions that draw our attention away from the road. (Yes, even driving while eating; it’s hard to look at the road while dipping a curly fry.) But beyond the clear risks of driving on a road at high speed without actually looking at it, there is the more subtle and insidious risk of being distracted from driving while actively looking at the road.

But how exactly does that happen? It’s simple enough, really. The mind can only do so much at once. While some of us are better multi-taskers than others, we are all susceptible to brain clutter. Whether we’re thinking about an important appointment, carrying on a phone conversation (even on speaker phone or via Bluetooth), or just chatting with a passenger, it’s all too easy to lose focus on the specifics of driving and just sort of ‘zone out.’  Even if you are looking right at the road, it’s still critical to keep your mind on the road as well, and to do it at all times.

Misconception #2 – A Quick Glance Isn’t a Distraction

Looking away from the road for even a few seconds can be disastrous – at 60 m.p.h. you travel 440 feet in five seconds. A lot can happen in 440 feet, and if you aren’t looking at the road, it probably won’t be anything good. Let’s break that down further – at the same speed, you travel 88 feet in one second. Suddenly, a quick glance doesn’t seem so harmless, does it? Looking away for even a second on the road can result in catastrophe.

Misconception #3 – If Everyone Does It, It Can’t Be That Bad

This is an easy myth to dispel, but also easy to buy into. If everyone you know texts and talks on the phone while driving, why shouldn’t you? If drive throughs exist, then isn’t eating while driving generally acceptable? And hey, why would vehicle manufacturers even put radios and entertainment systems in cars if they didn’t expect drivers to be at least a little distracted?

The answer to all of these questions can be summed up in the following way: common, dangerous behaviors are still dangerous. Sure, the odds may come up in a distracted driver’s favor 99 times out of 100, but all it takes is one bad roll of the dice, and things can turn ugly quickly. We see drivers all around us engaging in irresponsible, foolish driving behaviors, but that doesn’t mean we should emulate them. Protect yourself and your loved ones and ignore peer pressure. If everyone else wants to do it, that’s on them.

Misconception #4 – Distractions Are Always Obvious

Driving distractions don’t always jump out at you and announce their presence. You may be in a poor state of mind for driving because you are distracted emotionally or mentally. You may be tired or frustrated. You may be listening too intently to your thoughts, or absentmindedly focusing on your destination or an upcoming event. Clearing your mind of distractions is something you need to actively do as you drive if you want to keep these less-than-obvious distractions from cropping up.

Misconception #5 – Distracted Driving Is Harmless

Our final myth is perhaps also the most insidious. There is a kind of humorous dialogue around distracted driving, joking about swatting kids in the backseat, driving with your knees while eating a taco, and putting on lipstick in the rearview mirror. But the truth is that, humor aside, distracted driving is not harmless or victimless. As we mentioned in the introduction, thousands of lives are lost each year in the United States because of distracted driving, and countless more are impacted by the impacts of those losses, by injuires, and by the costs of automotive repairs or replacements.

Distracted driving is, in every sense, irresponsible. It places the driver at risk, it places others at risk, and is rarely even remotely necessary. The text can wait. The makeup can wait. And yes, even the taco can wait. We have microwaves for a reason.

Drive safe, drive focused, and drive free of distractions. It’s some of the best advice any driver can take.