You’re driving along, the sun is setting and there’s a cozy warm breeze. You’re listening to a song you’ve heard a hundred times, driving a road you’ve driven twice a day, every day for years. Your mind begins to wander, you’ve got a million different things to think about, right?
A task as relaxing as driving makes it just that easy to get distracted in the tangle of everything that’s weighing on your mind. Many drivers hear distracted driving and immediately think of texting as the main culprit. Yet a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) — using data gathered from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) — found that a staggering 64% of distracted drivers were generally distracted or “lost in thoughts” (daydreaming), as compared to only 12% being distracted by cellphones.
“We all run the risk of having our mind wander while driving.” said Bob Buckel, vice president of personal auto, Erie Insurance. “It is important for all of us to continually remind ourselves that things can happen on the road in a split second, so it is important that we stay attentive while we are behind the wheel.”
The Danger of Distractions
Driving while distracted is always dangerous and we highly encourage drivers to remain vigilant, no matter what day of the week or month it is — stay focused on the road ahead. Daydreaming or letting your mind drift off decreases your awareness of what is happening around you and delays response times, making it highly dangerous when operating a vehicle.
The IIHS used the information gathered from FARS to show that the most dangerous days for distraction-based accidents in 2020 were Saturdays in August. Inversely, Mondays in April were shown to be the least dangerous days. According to the data presented, nearly half of all deadly crashes occurred on either a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Crashes occur more often in the times we find the most relaxing, such as those weekend getaways.
The IIHS also compiled their 2020 list of the top distraction types that led to deadly accidents. The top five are:
- 64% – Generally Distracted or “lost in thoughts” (daydreaming)
- 12% – Cellphone usage (talking, listening, dialing, texting)
- 8% – Outside person, object or event
- 5% – Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car)
- 4% – Other distraction, not specified
To help bring awareness to the dangers of driving while distracted, ERIE reached out to Paul Atchley, Ph.D., an internationally recognized cognitive behavioral researcher. Atchley has been studying distracted driving for over 20 years, and he suggested several tips to help drivers remain alert behind the wheel.
- Never replace boredom with a distraction. In the modern world, this is often done by grabbing our phones and scrolling or answering that text you just heard ding. Reaching for your phone while behind the wheel is dangerous. Instead, fill that boredom with a game of focus, such as “I Spy.”
- Keep hazard perception sharp. This refers to knowing where to look on the road and recognizing what is happening around you that could result in you needing to act. These things can include others quickly changing lanes, pedestrians crossing the street or vehicles changing speeds.
- Carpooling with other experienced drivers. Having a second experienced driver in the vehicle with you acts as a second set of trained eyes that can also bring light conversation to help keep your mind focused.
- Avoid listening to the same playlists. Believe it or not, that song you’ve heard a hundred times and can recite word for word actually makes daydreaming easier. Try to shake it up, put on a new playlist or let a channel play you’ve never listened to before. It will help you remain more vigilant and maybe find a new favorite song!
- Use a form of passive engagement. Passive engagement comes from something that engages your mind to focus, such as listening to a podcast or radio show. According to Atchley, the strength of passive engagement in a situation such as driving is your brain can automatically tune it out when it needs to in order to be fully focused on the new task. Ever recall a moment that quickly drew your attention and the background noise, such as a radio, is suddenly not in your memories of that moment?
Bringing Peace of Mind
Here at ERIE, we insure your cars, but we care deeply for the safety of our customers, which is why we encourage you to always remain vigilant and avoid distractions on the road. April is Distracted Driving Month, but we feel this is a cause to stand behind all year long. Make sure to reach out to a local ERIE Agent to learn about your options for staying protected, no matter what you encounter on the road ahead.