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What does the term distracted driving mean?

Distracted driving is an epidemic on American roadways, including in Rhode Island. According to the American Bar Association, distracted driving accidents resulted in 421,000 injuries and 3300 deaths in 2012. However, what does the term "distracted driving" really mean?

When most people use the term "distracted driving," they typically refer to using a cellphone while behind the wheel of a car. However, cellphone use is not the only kind of driving distraction. Any activity performed while driving that takes your mind off what you are doing, removes your hands from the wheel of the car or draws your eyes away from the road is distracting. These distractions include cognitive, manual and visual distractions, respectively. Therefore, eating a sandwich is a manual distraction because it removes one of your hands from the steering wheel. Leaning over to adjust the radio volume is potentially both a manual and visual distraction because it may be necessary to look down at the control panel to see what you are doing. Applying make-up while looking into the rearview mirror is not only a visual and manual distraction but a cognitive distraction as well.

Why has distracted driving become such a common problem? There are several theories. One is that, as we become habitually accustomed to driving, we stop thinking about how complicated it is. Therefore, we attempt to fill what seems to be dead space on our daily and weekly schedules with other activities as a time-saving measure.

It is with good reason, however, that cellphone use is often synonymous with distracted driving. Use of a cellphone to text while driving represents all three types of driving distraction: manual, cognitive and visual. Even the advances intended to make cellphone use in the car safer, such as hands-free operation, cannot lessen the potential for a phone conversation to be a cognitive distraction.

States are taking action to decrease instances of distracted driving due to drivers' use of cellphones. As of 2014, 12 states have banned the use of handheld cellphones while operating a motor vehicle, and 41 states have enacted laws prohibiting texting while driving.

The information presented here is for educational use only. It is not intended to provide legal advice.

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