​​Distractions down, eyes up while driving

April 8, 2021

A driver with their hands on the steering wheel and a smartphone in a dash mounted holder

When we think of distracted driving, most of us think of holding a phone up to our ear or scrolling through our social media feed. But distracted driving takes a lot of different forms. Perhaps it's taking a selfie, like several people ticketed recently. Or it could be steering with your knees while holding a phone with both hands, like a St. Paul man did last year. Distracted driving can entail a messy lunch, noisy passengers, or changing the music or even lost in thought. And the consequences can change your life.

We need to increase awareness and change those distracted driving behaviors. Through April 30, law enforcement officers, deputies and troopers all over Minnesota are putting in extra hours, looking for distracted drivers. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety is coordinating the extra enforcement campaign as well as an awareness campaign that includes social media, media relations and advertising across Minnesota and to diverse communities and supports the statewide Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety initiative. All this is accomplished with funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Distracted driving contributes to an average of 31 deaths per year, according to statistics from 2016 through 2020. That's why awareness and enforcement are so important: The fewer distracted drivers on Minnesota roads, the better. Distracted driving contributes to 11 percent of all crashes in Minnesota – that's over 39,000 in the last five years.

The tough truth is that no one can multi-task behind the wheel. If you're texting while driving at 55 mph, for example, you'll travel an entire football field before looking up – and any sports fan can tell you that a lot can happen in 100 yards. Texting while driving combines all three types of distractions: visual, physical and cognitive. A visual distraction might be a passenger or a particularly interesting billboard. A physical distraction happens when you take your hands off the wheel to, say, pick up a napkin from the floor. And a cognitive distraction is when you're lost in thought or engaging in a particularly deep discussion. The point is that when you're driving a vehicle, you're there to do one thing and one thing only: Drive smart.

How does one drive smart? We'll start with the obvious:

  • Park the phone, turn it off, put it out of reach, or use a hands-free device.

  • Pre-program your radio stations and adjust your mirrors and vents before you leave.

  • Map out your destination and route in advance.

  • Avoid messy foods (sorry, barbecue lovers) and secure your drink.

  • Model proper driving behavior for your kids.

  • Ask passengers to help with anything that might take your attention away from the road.

  • Offer the same kind of help when you're a passenger, too.

With just a few adjustments, you can stay safe on the road. And more importantly, you can make sure everyone else on the road with you is safe, too. For more information, visit DriveSmartMN.org​.​​​