Speak Up About Distracted Driving: Why asking your friends to put down their phones is the best way to fight distracted driving


We are working on changing the culture around distracted driving. Even though distracted driving is killing thousands in the U.S. every year, drivers continue to do it. And you’ve likely been in the car with someone who was distracted. Did you ask them to put the phone down? To save the sandwich for home? Or offer to find the perfect radio station so they can focus on driving?

Imagine if you’re in the car on your phone and your friend said, “hey, can you put the phone down?” – would you? Chances are you would embarrassingly put the phone down and focus on driving – because you know that driving distracted is putting not only yourself, but your friends and others on the road in danger. It might be uncomfortable, but asking your friend or loved one to stop driving distracted is the most powerful tool in changing our culture. Not only does it end their distracted behavior in the moment, but they will start to think about the dangers of distracted driving the next time they get in the car.

We’re breaking down some situations to help you navigate situations when you want to speak up.


1. You don’t want to make the driver mad

Whether the driver is a friend, parent, sibling, colleague, or even a taxi driver – there are often times when you don’t want the driver getting mad if you ask them to put the distractions down. Start out by simply asking, “Would you mind putting the phone down?”. You can follow this up with a comment such as “I wouldn’t want anyone to pull out in front of you” or “There’s a lot of traffic today.” This way you’re not blaming them for distracted driving. You could also forgo this entirely and offer to send that text for them, or find the song they’re looking for. Saying this indicates that you’re uncomfortable with them driving distracted, and most people will either let you send that text or they’ll put their phone down.

When you’re the passenger in the car with a distracted driver, it’s your responsibility to be a leader and speak up. An annoyed friend is much better than a severely injured – or dead – friend. They will realize one day why you speak up about distracted driving. Be the one to start a trend. Make it uncool to drive distracted.

2. The driver says that eating, changing the song, or whatever they’re doing isn’t distracting

The CDC breaks distracted driving into 3 categories:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.

TheNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration also says that any activity that takes your mind off driving or hands off the wheel is considered distracted. This could even be when you’re deep in thought on your way home from work – because your mind is not focused on driving. If you’re in a car with a driver who claims the activity they’re doing isn’t distracted driving, you can quote the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In addition, as of March 2019, 16 states have passed laws that ban having your cell phone in your hand while driving. Here are a list of states with the law – if you’re in one of those states, tell the driver they are breaking the law.

Finally, if you still can’t get through to the driver, let them know you can’t ride in their car anymore. It might be extreme, but this is the type of social pressure we need to start putting on distracted drivers to change the culture.