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Eyes on the road: Dangers of distracted driving

  • Category: Safe Driving
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Bridget Gardner, RN, Community Injury Prevention
Eyes on the road: Dangers of distracted driving

We’ve all had those heart-pounding moments in a car where we have had to slam on the brakes to avoid crashing into the car ahead due to a car abruptly stopping and our own distractions – using the GPS system on the dash, reaching for an item, or checking a text on a cell phone.

When we’re driving in a car, even a tiny distraction can have huge, devastating consequences. Crashes caused by distractions happen every day, however, they are preventable—if we can commit to keeping our eyes on the road.

What is distracted driving? 

Distracted driving is any activity that steals your attention away from the primary task of driving your car. This can be manual, cognitive, or visual distractions. Examples include changing the radio station or picking a new playlist, fiddling with your GPS, texting, chatting on your cell, updating your socials, eating, drinking, applying makeup, reading or watching Netflix. Even talking with passengers can be enough of a distraction to be dangerous.  

The bottom line is, when you are driving a car, 100% of your focus should be on the road. If it isn’t, you are putting yourself (and other drivers on the road) at serious risk.  

MORE: Make this summer road trip the safest one yet 

How big of a problem is it? 

Huge. And the numbers are up in recent years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9% of all fatal crashes in the U.S. were caused by distracted driving, and 3,142 people were killed in moto vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2020. In Louisiana, 716 people had a fatal outcome or serious injury from a distracted/inattentive crash in 2020.

It only takes a moment 

Taking your eyes off the road for what you believe to be a quick moment is dangerous. A moment can cause an accident, but a second is more like it. In fact, it takes 4.6 seconds of driving at 55 mph, to travel the full length of a football field. Being distracted in such a short time is the equivalent of driving the same distance blindfolded!

Our cell phones, ourselves  

We get it; we keep our cell phones so close they may as well be an extra limb these days. But they are a huge liability when used while driving.  

Person driving while on a cell phone

Cell phones are a primary distraction because they engage us in all three categories of distraction simultaneously: 

  • Visual (we take our eyes off the road) 
  • Manual (we take our hands off the wheel) 
  • Cognitive (we take our mind off of driving) 

The human brain cannot do two things at the same time – like watch tv and hold a phone conversation. The brain will switch between the two tasks and slow reaction time. Your brain requires a responsive action time to identify dangers and react to hazards. There simply isn’t enough time to respond if your attention is divided and you are not focused on the primary task of driving. So think twice before hitting up the group chat, vlogging, tweeting, or posting that latest car selfie while you’re behind the wheel. 

Plus, forty-four states (including Louisiana) ban text messaging for all drivers, and fourteen states prohibit hand-held cell phone use by drivers. That means when you use your phone while driving, you aren’t only putting yourself at risk of bodily harm, but of legal repercussions too. Even at a red light, which people perceive as “safe” to text, you should remain alert and attentive. An AAA study showed that people are distracted up to 27 seconds after they finish sending a voice text. Voice texts cause mental distraction and visual and manual distraction to autocorrect the errors.

What’s being done about the danger? 

Currently, Louisiana is working on a bill to propose the use of hands-free devices only for drivers, which could help deter people from distracting phone usage. House Bill NO. 367 prohibits the use of a wireless telecommunications device while operating a motor vehicle on any public road or highway.

As the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, we at University Medical Center are in support of the passage of the handsfree bill. We’ve seen the worst impacts of distracted driving, and our Trauma Center’s Injury Prevention Team is dedicated to doing everything we can to prevent more injuries and fatalities.  

As part of our mission to eliminate distracted driving, our team hosts the Sudden Impact program for local high school students. Twice per week, high school sophomores attend the hospital-based program to understand the real consequences of high-risk behaviors behind the wheel. Distracted driving plays a key role in this program; it’s written into the script for the Sudden Impact Mock Crash, “Consequences of impact” and the Mock Trial, “Lifetime of Consequences.”  

The need for this program is extreme: It is not uncommon for students to report greater than 86% of them have been in a crash or near-crash because the driver of the car was distracted. That’s super scary to think about it.  

Reminder icon

5 reminders for avoiding distracted driving 

  1. Reduce cell phone distractions: Remove temptation when you can by silencing notifications, sending automatic replies, or placing your phone somewhere out of sight and reach

  1. It can wait: That text or DM is not worth the consequences. Most things can wait—and if they can’t, always pull into a safe, well-lit area before responding 

  1. Safety first: Be a role model to passengers and other people in your life by refusing to use your phone while driving; if you need to change the song or reply to a message, ask your passenger to do it for you 

  1. Eyes on the road: Always keep your eyes on the road and your mind on driving; be aware of your surroundings and aware of your risks 

  1. Drive defensively: Expect the unexpected, don’t speed, be ready to brake early, and always remain calm (no road rage!)  

MORE: “5 to Drive” Campaign Helps Parents Prepare, Protect Teen Drivers 

Remember—distracted driving related crashes are preventable, and it’s in your control. Commit to doing whatever you can to reduce distraction and avoid harming yourself or others. Don’t let yourself become another statistic by not being part of the problem but being part of the solution.

For more information on University Medical Center’s Injury Prevention Program, visit 

About Bridget Gardner

Bridget Gardner

Bridget Gardner, RN, is a registered nurse and coordinator of the Community Injury Prevention Program at University Medical Center New Orleans. The Louisiana Passenger Safety Task Force is a network of certified child passenger safety technicians throughout the state, directed by the University Medical Center Trauma Program.