Distracted driving has devastating consequences. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 515,000 people were injured and 5,870 were killed in 2008 in traffic accidents caused by distracted driving.
Many people automatically think of phones as the major culprits — and recent distracted driving legislation has focused on texting and talking on the phone while driving. But there are a number of other distractions that are just as dangerous:
- Pets: A dog may be man’s best friend, but not behind the wheel. A 2010 AAA survey found that nearly 60 percent of drivers with pets are guilty of at least one distracting behavior while driving with pets, including giving the pet food or water or playing with it. One-fifth of those surveyed acknowledged driving with a dog in their laps. Unrestrained pets also pose a risk. A pet that jumps in your lap while you’re driving, causing you to swerve, can have disastrous consequences.
- Children: If you’re a parent, think of how many times you’ve reached into the back seat to give your child a bottle, break up a sibling fight or see why your child is crying. Also, most parents probably have experienced a toy hurled in their direction while driving. Children can be one of the biggest driving distractions you can have in your car at any given time. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, they are four times as likely as adult passengers to be the cause of distraction.
- Food and beverages: Many people eat and drink in their cars. Removing your hands from the wheel to grab a french fry or a cup of soda is bad enough. However, spilling a hot cup of coffee on your shirt or dropping a messy sandwich in your lap can distract you to the point of causing an accident, not seeing a pedestrian or drifting into another lane.
- Music: Few people drive in absolute silence. Talk radio and music are common in cars — but they can pose a major distraction. This is particularly true for drivers who take their eyes off the road to change a CD or channel or adjust the volume. Loud music can prevent you from hearing sirens or car horns, making you a danger to fellow drivers.
Distracted driving can indirectly affect your auto insurance premiums by raising the likelihood that you’ll get in an accident — about 20 percent of accidents involving injuries in 2009 were the result of distracted driving, according to NHTSA. More accidents mean more claims. And auto insurance companies will raise your premiums in accordance with how much you’re costing them.