Visual Distractions While Driving

In 2018, over 2,800 people were killed and around 400,000 people were injured in crashes that involved a distracted driver. The CDC defines distracted driving as anything that takes your attention away from the driving task. Visual driving distractions are anything that would cause you to take your eyes off the road.

Driving is a complex process. It requires you to be mentally, physically, and visually engaged with your vehicle, the road, and your surroundings. Driving without being able to see where you’re going is impossible and creates danger for you and those around you.

Also See: The Three Main Categories of Distracted Driving: Visual, Manual, & Cognitive

Two Types of Vision

Two kinds of vision make up your visual field. They are central and peripheral vision.

Central Vision

Central vision only makes up 3% of your visual field. Your central vision is very focused. This kind of vision is concentrated on what is directly in front of your eyes. Central vision is used to read, see pictures, recognize faces, and of course, drive.

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral, or side vision, allows you to see things where you are not directly looking. When people use the phrase “out of the corner of my eye,” they’re referring to what is visible to them because of peripheral vision. Although you can recognize movement, peripheral vision is poor, even in young people with perfect central vision.

Your Two Types of Vision Work Together While Driving

When you drive, it’s important to have your central and peripheral vision focused on the task. They work together to keep you, other drivers, and pedestrians around you safe.

For example, imagine you are approaching an intersection. Your central vision sees the car in front of you, allowing you to keep a safe distance away. If another car enters the intersection from the side, your peripheral vision will notice and tell your brain to take action, such as swerving or breaking.

Kinds of Visual Distractions

There are several kinds of visual distractions while driving. Some of these include:

  • Checking your GPS or navigation system
  • Looking at the radio
  • Looking for temperature controls
  • Searching for items in your console, passenger seat, or floor
  • Looking at your phone
  • Billboards
  • Road Signs

Anything that diverts your eyes from the road in front of you can become a visual distraction while driving. In five seconds, a car going 55 mph travels the length of a football field. There is a lot that can go wrong if your eyes are distracted from the road for even five seconds.

Teens and Young Adults Are Most at Risk

Research by the CDC reveals that young adults aged 20 to 29 were involved in 25% of all fatal car crashes in 2018. Nine percent of teenagers who were killed in vehicle crashes in that same period were in accidents that involved distracted driving.

In 2019, research showed that 39% of teens who had driven in the past 30 days sent a text or an email message while driving at least once.

Avoiding Visual Distractions While Driving

There are important steps that should be taken to help keep your eyes on the road.

Actions for Drivers

If you are the driver of a car, you are responsible for keeping yourself and other drivers and pedestrians safe. You can do this by:

  • Eating and drinking before you get on the road
  • Not attempting to multitask for any reason
  • Setting your GPS before you drive and pulling over if adjustments are needed
  • Using an app to help prevent cell phone use while driving

Remember and practice these things to protect yourself and others.

Actions for Passengers

Passengers in a car can help the driver maintain their visual focus by doing navigation or other ancillary tasks for them. In addition, if you’re a passenger in a car and the driver is focusing on other things, speak up and ask them to pay attention to the road.

Actions for Parents

Since teenagers and young adults are most at risk for distracted driving, parents should take action to help their kids learn the rules and responsibilities of the road. Steps could include:

  • Talking to your teen about the dangers of distracted driving
  • Sharing stories and statistics about distracted driving
  • Setting consequences for distracted driving
  • Setting an example yourself by keeping your eyes on the road at all times

You cannot control what your kids do when you are not in the car with them. Talking to them about the results of distracted driving can help make them aware of the true danger involved.

A Serious Problem

Distracted driving is a serious problem that has the potential to affect innocent drivers and pedestrians. Safe driving begins when we each take the duty of care while driving seriously. By ensuring that our minds, hands, and eyes are focused on the driving task, we can do our part to avoid distracted driving.

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