Although many people do it every day, driving is a very complicated activity. Driving requires us to coordinate a lot of different information at once: we have to ‘watch the road’, accurately judge distance and speed of other objects, remember where we want to go, abide by the traffic laws, all at accelerated speeds in enclosed spaces with incredible power.
You might think once you’ve learned the skills, you don’t really have to pay all that much attention to what you’re doing. You’d be wrong, of course. To help show you why, here’s a list of 10 things that you absolutely should avoid when driving. All of them have something in common: they will distract your attention from driving and put you, your passengers and the other people on the road in danger.
1) Chat on the Cell
Talking on your cell phone is one of the worst things to do while driving; and it is so dangerous that you’re banned from doing so in many places in the world. You may think that just because you are not looking at your phone that you are driving safely. The facts are that you are much less likely to attend to changes in the traffic situation effectively and quickly when you are distracted by a conversation you’re having with someone. Hands-free devices may help a little bit; but, even then, you are still dividing your mental effort between the highly demanding task of driving safely, and keeping a conversation going with a disembodied voice. Driving demands you stay alert and prepared to respond. So, do everyone a favor: don’t talk and drive.
2) Eat food
This might seem a relatively innocent thing to do when you’re driving, but it’s against the law in many places; and for good reason. Eating is a major distraction when you’re driving. Your tuna sandwich is not only going to make you take your eyes off the road for crucial seconds; it is also going to occupy at least one of your hands, which really should be on the steering wheel instead. Even drinking a bottle of water poses its own problems; and hot liquids are particularly dangerous to drink when driving. Overall you have an impaired ability to respond to the road conditions if you’re munching away on a chicken wing, or washing your lunch down with a soda.
3) Get distracted by children
When you are driving, any tension you have between other people in the car can be a potential risk factor. This is particularly true on occasions when you are driving with your children in tow and they start acting out. Most children are in the back seat rather than front seat, especially those under 10; and you, as the adult, don’t command much of their attention, so discipline is sometimes hard to enforce. The temptation is to turn around, and give them a piece of your mind; but, if you do, you put yourself and them in grave danger. If you feel that things have gotten out of hand, and you really do need to control the situation, find a side street, pull over, and then chastise your children.
4) Get sleepy
Here’s another common sense “no-no” if you’re behind the wheel. You may think that it’s pretty hard to fall asleep while you’re driving but, when you’re overworked, overstressed and not getting enough sleep, it is surprisingly easy to just nod off, even for just a second. There are a lot of suggestions for what you might do if you start to feel yourself becoming sleepy: stop and get something like coffee to keep you awake, wait and get some rest before you start to travel or have someone else drive. It’s tempting to think that rolling down the window or turning the radio on really loud will keep you awake but, it’s unlikely to work if you’re really tired so, if you feel sleepy, pull over somewhere safe and take a rest.
5) Get distracted by the radio
There are a lot of things that can distract you when you’re driving and the radio is one of them. Whether you’re listening to your favorite tune and singing along or you’re disagreeing with a talk show host about current foreign policy, the radio can have the same effect as another person in the car, and can be just as engrossing. Anything which diverts your attention—be it for amusement or aggravation—will impair your ability to react to ever changing traffic conditions so, in fact, the radio can be one of the greatest dangers when you drive. You’ll notice that it’s easier for you to keep your mind on your driving if you keep your radio listening limited to things that aren’t overly stimulating.
6) Slowing down and “rubbernecking”
Whenever an accident happens, some people feel compelled to slow down and peer—otherwise known as rubbernecking. This is possibly one of the worst things you can do for a number of reasons. First, it’s likely that traffic has been affected, especially if the accident involves multiple vehicles and you are delaying the flow of things further by unnecessarily slowing your speed. Second, it’s quite morbid and if someone has been seriously hurt, you aren’t helping the situation by staring at the wreckage. Third, you are more likely to cause another accident because you’re not paying attention to your own driving. If there is an accident, comply with what all emergency workers would tell you: look straight ahead, and continue on your journey.
7) Getting angry
Driving is a social activity and you share the road with lots of other users. Not everyone is a good driver and some people are more courteous than others. But even the mildest mannered of people can get incensed when having to deal with their fellow drivers. There have been countless stories about road rage and assaults when drivers were unable to control their tempers. A car is a lethal weapon and you should never allow your anger to vent itself whilst you are behind the wheel. If you do get yourself so agitated, pull over until you can calm down or make a quick detour to remove yourself from the situation. Remember that you could kill the other person and yourself if you let your emotions get the better of you.
Here is an unsurprising example of something not to do when driving. Whether it’s a short or long drive, sometimes you can get too hot or too cold. You might have forgotten to take off your coat or you may suddenly become cold and want to put on a sweater. Any attempts at quick changes in the car will lead you to endanger yourself and everyone else around you. Changing items of clothing will distract your attention and importantly might leave you tangled up—meaning you will be physically unable to maneuver the car. Anything which impacts your ability to handle the car is obviously something that you should avoid. If you need to make any clothing adjustments, pull over first.
9) Texting, emailing, using social media
It may be very tempting to let someone know you’re on your way, or to take a selfie while driving yet, these are the very things that will significantly increase your chances of an accident. There are graphic advertisements on television, the radio and the internet warning of the dangers of texting while driving. It’s simple: texting, emailing, tweeting or taking pictures requires you to look at your cell phone, occupies your hands and distracts your thoughts. It only takes a millisecond for an accident to happen and if you’re not thinking about the traffic situation, not looking or you can’t grab the wheel, you stand little chance of being able to respond effectively and quickly. Using social media when you’re behind the wheel is about as dangerous as driving with your eyes closed.
10) Retrieving anything, from anywhere
This includes picking something off the floor, looking for something in the back seat, trying to get that piece of candy that fell in the crack on the side of the seat and a thousand other things. Anything that diverts your attention away from your driving will make you a danger to yourself and to other road users. So, if you’re trying to get your water bottle that’s lying on the floor on the passenger’s side, you can’t pay attention to your driving. You will not have enough hands to turn the wheel suddenly if you’re fishing around in a shopping bag for a receipt. Driving is a dangerous activity. If you are distracted by wanting to get something, or making sure you haven’t forgotten something at home, pull over and check.