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What the biggest distraction while driving? You might be surprised!

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As you cruise down the road with the sun setting and a warm breeze blowing, you're lost in thought, listening to a familiar tune and driving along a familiar route that you've taken daily for years. It's easy to get sidetracked in the midst of everything on your mind when you're engaged in such a relaxing activity like driving.

Distracted driving usually evokes images of texting as the primary culprit, but a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that a shocking 64% of distracted drivers were generally preoccupied or "daydreaming," compared to only 12% being distracted by cellphones, according to data collected from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Bob Buckel, Erie Insurance's Vice President of Personal Auto, says, "We are all at risk of being lost in thought while driving. It's important for us to constantly remind ourselves that things can occur in a split second while driving, so it's critical that we remain alert when behind the wheel."

Biggest distraction while driving

The Hazards of Being Distracted.

We strongly advise drivers to maintain focus on the road at all times as driving while distracted is inherently risky. Engaging in daydreaming or letting one's mind wander can significantly decrease situational awareness and delay reaction times, posing a great danger when operating a vehicle.

Based on data collected from FARS, the IIHS revealed that distraction-related accidents were most frequent and hazardous on Saturdays in August, while Mondays in April showed the lowest incidence rates. According to the findings, almost half of all fatal crashes occurred on weekends, particularly during times when people tend to unwind, such as weekend getaways.

Additionally, the IIHS has compiled a list of the top five types of distractions that led to deadly accidents in 2020.

  1. 64% - Generally Distracted or “lost in thoughts” (daydreaming)
  2. 12% - Cellphone usage (talking, listening, dialing, texting)
  3. 8% - Outside person, object or event
  4. 5% - Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car)
  5. 4% - Other distraction, not specified

Staying Alert

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

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.

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