Recently a friend posted on Facebook saying while on his commute, he had seen a man in another vehicle using a nose-hair trimmer while driving (WHAT?! WHY?!). I also previously had orthodontic assistants who told me that they brushed their teeth while driving! Granted, I have not been to the orthodontist in well over a decade, but I wonder if these oral hygiene (or nose hair trimming!) focused people are aware now that their actions could count as distracted driving, just like texting while driving can? With Winter already or soon upon us, and snow present or looming in many parts of the world, did you know that the weather, though out of your control, is actually a factor in distracted driving, too?
What is distracted driving?
Your distractibility while driving will vary from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. A variety of factors can impact how distracted you are on the road, and those go beyond the obvious like backseat drivers, children in the car, and other drivers on the road!
Distracted driving is traditionally looked upon as texting or using a phone while driving, or maybe even talking with passengers or providing care for children. However, Johns Hopkins Medicine also lists the following as contributors to distracted driving :
- Adjusting the radio or heat/air conditioning (or setting the GPS!)
- Eating—my sociology prof said, when cell phone bans while driving were going in place here back in 2011, that he believed huge Subway sandwiches were contributors to distracted driving, with lettuce, sauces and other sandwich components falling all over the place. Well, Curt, nowadays a driver could well be given a distracted driving ticket for eating a sandwich!
- “Reading a map or publication” . I’d love to know what sort of “publication” drivers are reading while driving! Medical journals? Car manuals? Look people, pull over if you need to consult the map or GPS, if you can’t do it with your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel!
- Personal grooming—hello, orthodontic assistants and the man with the nose-hair trimmer, but also probably everyone who puts make-up on while driving.
- Preparing for work: Whether this is a phone call or mentally reciting for your meeting, work is important and so is driving—avoid doing both at the same time unless you’re a trucker, bus or taxi driver, or engaged in another profession where driving is your job!
What factors impact distracted driving?
Your ability to focus and drive unimpaired by distractions can vary based on about a million factors, such as time of day, medical conditions or medications, stress level, weather, and more. For people like myself with ADHD, often ADHDers experience greater rates of car accidents, because, well, we are easily distracted. The North Carolina Department of Transportation lists the following within its Safety Guidelines for Drivers encompassing different types of factors that may impair driving alertness. 
- Drowsy driving – avoid driving when you are tired, and between the times when your body is used to being asleep—ie. 12 AM to 6 AM—and times you may have an energy slump—ie. 1 PM to 3 PM.  Having a passenger with you who will stay awake and conversational an also help, as can taking regular breaks to move. 
- Distractions within your car – Keep your stereo quiet enough to hear signals outside your vehicle. Have passengers navigate and use GPS devices or maps for you, and change music. Make sure pets are within a carrier and unable to freely move about the vehicle—seatbelt attachments for dogs also exist to keep them in their seats and protect them in case of an accident.  Have another adult along to tend to children during long drives—and make even greater priority to take breaks!
- Light – Know when to use your high beam vs. your low beam lights, and be sure all of your lights work properly.  Remember to remove your sunglasses when light decreases—perhaps setting your cell phone to ping a reminder around sundown to take off your sunglasses. Ensure this reminder does not repeat or require dismissing with your hands.
- Weather – Snow, rain, sleet, and hail can all make for a difficult time driving. You will need to have even greater levels of concentration while driving in inclement weather, and should try to minimize all other distractions as much as possible if you must drive in bad weather. Ensure your windshield wipers work properly and your fluid is refilled, and that your snow tires are switched out before you need them! If the weather severity outpaces your driving skill, pull over and wait it out or call for help.
- Wildlife (Deer) – Know where to expect deer in your path, and how to watch for them. Most collisions involving deer occur in the evening and nighttime hours, between 5 PM and 7 AM. However, I would consider this may not only be because it is darker or the deer more active, but also because drivers may be more distracted or drowsy/tired at this time.
- Medical Conditons and Medications: Many medicines have a sticker on the bottle saying not to drive until you know how a medicine affects you—many drug commercials also state the same. Your health and any medical conditions you have may also impact your ability to drive in general, or your ability to drive at certain times of day. In the cases of conditions like epilepsy or low blood sugar in people with diabetes, you may not have warning for when or if a medical episode will arise. Speak with your doctor about if your medications or medical condition affects your ability to drive, and how to deal with this. Wear a medical ID bracelet if you are more at risk while driving because of your medical condition.
So, as you see, there are many factors affecting distracted driving. With Winter ahead, it’s important to remember your winter driving skills and be prepared for emergencies. Review that drivers’ ed handbook for how to deal with ice and snow, and focus on the road, not anything else!
This week is Safe Driving week—consider how you can become an even better driver this week! Distracted driving can be as bad as impaired driving—that is, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol—so remember all of these things next time you get behind the wheel, no matter how good a driver you may be!