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Feb 5, 2021

7 min. read

Texting isn’t the only thing taking drivers’ eyes—and minds—off the road

You’re driving home with your 20-year-old, and she’s at the wheel. Stopped at a red light, her phone—tucked in the cup holder—pings. She reaches for it, but you put out a hand to stop her. “Come on, it could be important. It’s not like I’m sending a text,” she says.

“Through research, we recognize that a lot of people—young people, in particular—don’t associate what they do with their phone while driving with texting,” explains Ian Jack, CAA National’s vice-president of public affairs. CAA has long warned against the dangers of texting and talking while driving, “but many motorists think because they’re only taking a couple of seconds to look at their phone, it’s okay.” While young drivers are most at risk, the distraction caused by devices affects drivers of all ages—especially those who are compelled to scroll, like and share.

Modern distractions

As vehicles and mobile phones have evolved, so too has distracted driving. Smartphones help us stay connected, entertained and headed in the right direction. So now, instead of texting, drivers check social media, change playlists and interact with their GPS—all of which cause cognitive distraction.

“When you’re interacting with a phone, even if your eyes are looking at the road, you’re not engaged in the driving task at hand,” Jack says. That lack of focus can slow your reaction time and may have deadly consequences.

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To demonstrate just how quickly a distraction can put drivers and those around them at risk, CAA developed #UnplugAndDrive. The awareness campaign, aimed at young drivers, features short, quirky animated videos that focus on the shame of getting caught rather than the carnage of a collision.

The campaign’s lighthearted style makes the message approachable and memorable. “Gen Z-ers are socially motivated; they care about these issues and they want to do the right thing,” Jack explains. “If we can reach a young person today to help foster healthy habits, that might translate to 60 years of safe driving.”

Be proactive

The easiest way to manage device-related distractions is to set things up before you start your vehicle. Enter your destination in the GPS, check over the route, pick your playlist and let everyone know you’re going into drive mode—and won’t be checking your phone until it’s safe to do so.

When you’re along for the ride, help promote distraction-free driving and take over managing the music, messaging and maps. Drivers can designate one of their passengers to handle device-related tasks.

“Every time someone reaches out for their phone while driving, we want them to remember one thing,” Jack says. “Whatever the task, it diverts your attention away from the road.” And the more attention all drivers pay to driving, the safer our roads will be.

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