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What’s the Biggest Distraction While Driving? It Might Surprise You!

You’re driving along, the sun is setting and there’s a cozy warm breeze. You’re listening to a song you’ve heard a hundred times, driving a road you’ve driven twice a day, every day for years. Your mind begins to wander, you’ve got a million different things to think about, right?

A task as relaxing as driving makes it just that easy to get distracted in the tangle of everything that’s weighing on your mind. Many drivers hear distracted driving and immediately think of texting as the main culprit. Yet a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) — using data gathered from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) — found that a staggering 64% of distracted drivers were generally distracted or “lost in thoughts” (daydreaming), as compared to only 12% being distracted by cellphones.

“We all run the risk of having our mind wander while driving.” said Bob Buckel, vice president of personal auto, Erie Insurance. “It is important for all of us to continually remind ourselves that things can happen on the road in a split second, so it is important that we stay attentive while we are behind the wheel.”

The Danger of Distractions

Driving while distracted is always dangerous and we highly encourage drivers to remain vigilant, no matter what day of the week or month it is — stay focused on the road ahead. Daydreaming or letting your mind drift off decreases your awareness of what is happening around you and delays response times, making it highly dangerous when operating a vehicle.

The IIHS used the information gathered from FARS to show that the most dangerous days for distraction-based accidents in 2020 were Saturdays in August. Inversely, Mondays in April were shown to be the least dangerous days. According to the data presented, nearly half of all deadly crashes occurred on either a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Crashes occur more often in the times we find the most relaxing, such as those weekend getaways.  

The IIHS also compiled their 2020 list of the top distraction types that led to deadly accidents. The top five are:

  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

Here 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 learn about your options for staying protected, no matter what you encounter on the road ahead.

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of July 2022 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.