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Eliminate Distractions - Highway
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 Eliminate Distractions - Highway

What is the problem?

Too many drivers are operating their vehicles while distracted, leading to deadly crashes. Driver distraction occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the driving task and fail to do the basics, like continuously monitoring the road and controlling their vehicle to address unexpected events. Personal electronic devices (PEDs), such as cell phones, are one of the greatest contributors to driver distraction.

In 2016, more than 3,100 fatal crashes involving distraction occurred on US roadways (9% of all fatal crashes that year). These crashes involved 3,210 distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), because some of them involved more than one distracted driver.

Contributing to the problem is the widespread belief by many drivers that they can multitask and still operate a vehicle safely. But multitasking is a myth; humans can only focus cognitive attention on one task at a time. That’s why executing any task other than driving is dangerous and risks a crash.

Although drivers contend with many other distractions, such as other passengers and infotainment systems, PEDs are particularly concerning because drivers spend more time on these devices than on other distracting activities. We continue to investigate crashes in all modes that involve the inappropriate use of PEDs.

But manual distraction—texting—is not the only concern; “cognitive” distractions can occur when using hands-free devices because, although you’re not physically holding something or pushing a button, you are still focusing your mind elsewhere, such as on your conversation, rather than on the road ahead. We have seen several crashes involving handsfree devices and this form of cognitive distraction.

What can be done?

To reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths, drivers must keep their minds, hands, and eyes focused only on driving. Focusing on or thinking about anything other than the task at hand impairs performance and can lead to tragic consequences. Distraction can best be addressed through a combination of education, legislation, and enforcement.

To address the problem of distraction, the following actions should be taken:


  • Ban all PED use on our roadways. The District of Columbia and 37 states restrict the use of cell phones by novice drivers, and 47 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
  • Strictly enforce laws; consider roadway monitoring to detain violators.

Operators/Industry/Advocacy Groups

  • Educate the public. Public education continues to be important for teaching drivers, operators, and safety-critical personnel about the dangers of distractions. Legislation and enforcement can help bring about this change.

Vehicle Manufacturers

  • When designing and incorporating infotainment systems, consider the level of distraction they will create for drivers and restrict access when the vehicle is in motion.

Public (Drivers)

  • Recognize that safe driving requires 100% of a driver’s attention 100% of the time. Distraction is not only about holding a device in your hand or glancing away from the road; it also involves mentally straying from the driving task. You can’t multitask!

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