Causes and Effects of Distracted Driving

Multitasking behind the wheel can have disastrous consequences

A man texting and driving
••• Jordan Siemens/Taxi/Getty Images

While you may feel like you drive on autopilot, it requires a lot of focus and your full attention. Distractions can affect all drivers now and then, and it only takes one time and the smallest of distractions to cause a life-altering accident.

Distracted driving affects society as a whole and puts drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk. Know the causes of distracted driving so you can take care to place your full attention on the road and avoid accidents.

Causes of Distracted Driving

It's common for people to multitask while driving. But multitasking is a distraction; it takes your full attention from the road, and that can cause accidents. No matter whether you're eating with one hand, picking up something you dropped, or fiddling with the stereo, you're doing something besides driving, and that carries risk.

Examples of Driving Distractions

Distractions cover a wide range of possibilities:

  • Adjusting the radio
  • Monitoring loud or active kids
  • Eating or drinking
  • Talking or texting on cellphones
  • Driving under the influence
  • Inputting information into a GPS

Some people even shave or apply makeup while driving!

While it is impossible to outlaw all distractions, many states have created laws against the biggest offenders, such as cellphone usage, texting, and driving under the influence, in an effort to curb accidents.

Effects of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving can be extremely dangerous and result in accidents with effects ranging from minor vehicle damage to a totaled car and devastating injuries. Increasingly, distracted driving results in fatalities. It can also affect your insurance premiums and even result in fines or jail time if caught.

Each state has its own set of laws when it comes to distracted driving. It is important to check what the laws and penalties are in your state or any state where you plan to drive.

Cellphone Usage

Banning cellphone usage while driving has come about because of the high level of distraction from the devices and the number of people using them. Many experts compare using a cellphone while driving to drinking and driving, because of the amount of time the driver's eyes are off the road.

Some states ban all cellphone usage while others ban only texting. As of May 2019, 48 states; Washington, D.C.; Guam; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban texting and driving.

If you are caught using a cellphone in a way that is banned, you could be pulled over and ticketed by police. Fines vary and insurance carriers will likely address the violation by adding a surcharge to your car insurance policy at your next policy renewal.

Driving While Under the Influence

The use of mind-altering substances such as alcohol, illicit drugs, or even prescription medication is a form of distracted driving. These substances make it difficult to focus your attention on the road, and alcohol delays your response time as well.

Drunk driving laws are severe in most states; they typically include large fines, driver's license suspensions, and possibly jail time.

Car insurance also will be expensive and difficult to obtain once you're cited for driving under the influence. Your current car insurance carrier could potentially non-renew your car insurance policy. Car insurance carriers will classify you as a high-risk driver and charge much higher rates. It often takes five years (10 years for California) to get back into good-driver standing once a DUI is on your driving record.

Stay Focused and Avoid Accidents

People frequently drive distracted and escape consequences. Distraction seems to be a part of our everyday lives. But the frequency of driving while distracted, and the lack of awareness about its effects, combine to make it quite dangerous. Most people think that nothing will ever happen to them—until one day, it does.

It only takes a split second of distraction to create a lifetime of pain and suffering. Remember, driving is a privilege, and your decisions do not affect only you but other people on the road, too. Knowing what is likely to distract you when you're behind the wheel will help ensure that you keep your focus on the road and avoid disastrous accidents.