Like most young drivers, you probably live out of your car as you shuttle between school, work and home. Your ride is your dressing room, your nightclub on wheels, your lunch room and even your meditation room.
But, unfortunately, as many young drivers discover each year, driving is a task that requires your undivided attention, especially since you're still green to the scene. Fact is, drivers between the ages of 16 to 19 are four times likelier than older drivers to be involved in car accidents. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety stats still list car crashes as the leading cause of death for teen drivers and attribute this to driver inexperience and juvenile behavior (i.e. tailgating, speeding, etc.). Throw multitasking in the mix and you're asking for trouble...and not the good kind.
The following are driving distractions you may be all too familiar with as well as ways to preserve your focus when behind the wheel.
- Chatting with friends: Turns out, young drivers with young passengers tend to get in more accidents than those driving alone, inspiring many states to include passenger restrictions in graduated driver licensing. Makes sense, since there's nothing like a friend to tease you or say something compelling to get you to take your eyes off the road. And, sure, no one wants to be the mom in the car, but when you're behind the wheel, it's OK to tell your friends, "Shut it, I'm driving."
- Cell phone use: Regardless of whether you have a headset, save that phone conversation about where tonight's hot party is for later, preferably when you're stopped or, even better, out of the car. Turns out, conversing is a bigger distraction than fidgeting with a phone or headset. But if you just have to take the call, tell the person on the other end that you're on the road and will call them back later.
- Text and go: Texting is probably one of the best ways to communicate: instant gratification without disturbing the receiving party and you don't have to talk to them if you don't want to. But typing while you're driving? Not a good idea — you only have two hands, and they're better off on the steering wheel. Best save this task for when you can safely compose a note. If you can say it in a text, the message can wait until you're parked.
- Playing DJ: There's nothing like cruising to your favorite songs. But that split-second you lean over to change that CD or switch to a different radio station is just enough time for an accident to happen. To prevent this, invest in a CD changer with your albums of choice at the ready. And program your favorite radio stations into the presets so you don't have to use the "Seek" or "Tune" buttons to scroll through them. If you have an iPod and your car is equipped with an auxiliary input or you have another way to hook up your iPod, create a playlist of fave tunes to cruise to so you're not scrolling through the menus as you drive.
- Taking it to go: Sometimes you only have so much time to enjoy a meal so it's yet another visit to the drive-thru for you. But instead of juggling your soda with your fries with your burger, wait until you're parked before you chow down. If not, you might find yourself in a situation in which the only recipe you're enjoying is one for disaster. It's hard to give the road the attention it needs when you're focused on getting your grub on and not spilling on yourself.
- Feeling the music: Sure, everyone's guilty of blasting on their tunes in the car to accompany their singing and smoking-hot chair-dancing moves. Unfortunately, car karaoke can put you in danger since you won't be able to hear the horns of other motorists or emergency vehicle sirens above your falsetto high note. Instead, save that earth-thumping boom for your home. Enjoy your in-car tunes at a reasonable level since you need to hear as well as see when you're on the road.
- Fidgeting with the controls: It's only natural to want to fine-tune your situation while you're on the road, but spend too much time messing with the controls and you could be messing with danger. Wanna turn down the thermostat, flick on cruise control or hit the recirculating button while behind the wheel? Then memorize the layout of your mobile mission control center beforehand so that you can program, turn things on and off, and switch functions without even looking at the dash.
- Preening on the road: You may think you're saving time by multitasking as you're putting on makeup or brushing your hair while you drive. But what you're really doing is setting yourself up for a costly lesson in driving while distracted. All it takes is that couple of seconds you look in the mirror for a collision to happen. Besides, what's it going to hurt to just pretty yourself up when you get to your destination, before you get out of the car?
- Mad as hell and taking it on the road: Sometimes a long drive seems like just the thing to calm you down. In reality, it could be the worst thing to do when you're angry or upset. Driving angry is like driving drunk. Your judgment is off, you're probably amped up and you don't realize that you're flooring the gas pedal. To prevent an ugly situation from getting uglier, just stay away from anything with wheels until your heart rate has returned to normal.
- Lost in directions: Reading maps or directions with one hand on the wheel can be dangerous. Instead, map out your location and get a good idea of where you're heading before you get in your car, or pull over if you need to take a closer look at your flight plan while en route. Map sites like Google Maps and MapQuest make getting lost a thing of the past by giving you turn-by-turn directions to your destination.
Extra credit: Check out "Multitasking Mania and Distracted Driving" to read about the worst distracted driver ever and what automakers are doing to limit multitasking by motorists.
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