Every driver knows better than to drink and drive, but chances are that everyone’s guilty of sending a quick text or calling while stuck in traffic or stopped at a red light. However, did you know that distracted driving is actually just as dangerous as driving under the influence?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers contribute to 80% of collisions. It only takes one second of keeping your eyes off the road to end up in an accident.
What is distracted driving?
Being on your phone when you shouldn’t be is the most common form of distracted driving, but it isn’t the only distraction. Distracted driving also includes:
- Using other devices and viewing display screens on tablets, laptops, and music players
- Using a GPS device that isn’t mounted
- Talking, singing, and dancing alone or with other passengers
- Adjusting the radio or stereo, and AC or heater
Basically, anything you do that isn’t steering the wheel and driving to your destination, as well as anything that causes your focus to shift away from the road, counts as distracted driving and can be considered a dangerous driving offence in Alberta.
Consequences of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving leads to serious, life-threatening accidents and even loss of life. In Alberta, it’s also a crime that carries demerit points, fines, jail terms, and license suspensions.
Even when you’re fit to get back on the road, a conviction can affect your auto insurance coverage. Remember that your auto insurance coverage is subject to policy wording, terms, conditions, and deductibles, and protection is limited to the perils, exclusions, and limits shown on the policy.
Causing an accident because of distracted driving can lead your auto insurance provider to perceive you as a higher risk that becomes more costly to protect. As a result, you could face higher premiums and loss of discounts, as well as cancellation of your auto insurance policy and a ban from qualifying for coverage.
How to Prevent Distracted Driving
The best way to drive is safely and free of distractions. If you find yourself getting distracted easily, or you’re having trouble kicking these bad habits, check out this guide to staying focused on the road:
1. Out of sight, out of mind
You won’t be tempted to use your phone if it’s not within reach. Stow it in the console or glove compartment. Only activate hands-free mode if you absolutely need it; or, if you’re expecting a call or message, let them know that you’re about to hit the road to minimize the chances of getting a text or call and the urge to respond.
2. Know where you’re going
You’re driving with a destination in mind, so take some time to review your route before you head out. Whether it’s your everyday commute or a long drive, it’s best to review the directions before leaving so you’re not forced to look them up when you’re already behind the wheel.
3. Pre-program your GPS
Many cars now have a built-in navigation system. If yours doesn’t, chances are that you use your phone or a separate GPS device. In fact, many drivers count on their GPS not just when making a long trip out of town or to an unfamiliar neighbourhood, but also to find the best way out of rush hour traffic in Alberta.
If you’re one of these drivers, make sure to pre-program your GPS and review the route before leaving. If you use your phone’s GPS, make sure it’s properly mounted on the dashboard, and rely on the audio directions rather than glancing at the screen.
4. Clean your car
Phones aren’t the only culprit in distracted driving. Loose objects can easily slide or dislodge when you turn or brake, and distract you. Instead, make sure your car is clean and the dashboard is clear.
5. Pre-set your creature comforts
Do you have a playlist for the commute? Is your car comfortably set to the right temperature? Pre-set these creature comforts before leaving, so you’re not fumbling with music and climate controls when you should be focused on the road.
6. Prep your passengers
Driving with kids or pets? It can easily turn into a circus back there, so make sure they’re safely strapped in, fed and hydrated, and entertained. Keeping them safe and comfortable minimizes the chances of them crying, jumping around, and getting fussy, which are all distracting and potentially dangerous, especially on a long drive.
7. Co-pilot, not car karaoke partner
If you’re driving with a passenger in the front seat, make sure they’re up for the task. They should help you focus on the road, not cause distractions. Ask them to help you navigate, select music, maintain climate control, and more—basically anything you can’t and shouldn’t be doing yourself while driving.
8. Don’t eat and drive
Driving a long way? Fuel up for the road, then save the snacks for later. You already know not to drink and drive, but did you know that eating is also a distraction? A messy burger, ice cream cone, or anything that needs to be opened or unwrapped not only disrupts your focus, but also occupies your hands, which should be firmly gripping the wheel.
9. Take a break
A general rule of driving is stopping every two hours. You might think that powering through allows you to cut down the long drive, but it’s not safe or healthy. Aside from fueling up, a break helps you re-energize and refocus for the rest of the drive.
10. Drive actively
Remember the most basic rule of driving: focus. Scan the road, check your mirrors, and keep both hands on the wheel. While it sounds like a no-brainer, it helps to always keep the basics in mind and remind yourself to follow them. Taking your focus away from the road—even for just a second to glance at roadside activities—can lead to disastrous consequences.