What are the different types of distracted driving?

Written by Jacqueline Jobin, Devna Panda, and Harini Senthilkumar


Since we live in a world filled with constant text messages, social media posts, and communications, distractions surround us. Even when we buckle up in our car, the outside world tempts our minds and eyes to wander from what’s ahead. This type of behavior can lead to distracted driving. The DMV defines distracted driving as “driving while not fully paying attention to the road.” This type of driving is dangerous and has the potential to cause crashes which in some cases can be fatal.1 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving killed 2,841 Americans in 2018.2 Unfortunately, distractions on our commute are on the rise, resulting in an increased number of fatalities. 


Distracted driving actions can vary, but most activities are typically categorized as either visual, manual, or cognitive. Visual distractions occur anytime our eyes leave the road and focus on something else in our vehicle like searching the floor of the car for something that fell, changing the radio station, texting, rerouting or checking a GPS, and pressing different buttons on the dashboard. Manual distractions involve using our hands in order to do certain activities other than steering, including turning knobs in the car, smoking, eating, and drinking. Cognitive distractions prevent our brain from being focused on the task at hand. Some common examples include road rage, daydreaming, and talking to someone whether in the car or on a call. These 3 categories give us a glimpse of the reality of how seemingly harmless activities can be extremely dangerous.3 


There is one action in particular that harnesses all 3 distracted driving groups – texting. The visual aspect is when our eyes drift away from the road and toward our screen; the manual factor occurs as our hands lift from the wheel and type away; cognitive abilities as a driver diminish the second we start paying more precious attention to our conversations than to the awareness-dependent task of driving. Every time we grab the phone to shoot a text, we have to remember that each character we type could trigger a pivotal change in multiple lives. It is important to consider whether or not that “LOL” is worth an eternity of loss, guilt, and anguish.3


Since many teenagers fall prey to distracted driving behaviors, they can often deliver the most effective messages regarding this issue. For example, teenagers can take a pledge to promise that they will never engage in distracted driving and can participate in local initiatives that raise awareness about distracted driving.


It is extremely important that we all observe these behaviors in those around us and have conversations about the dangerous implications of distracted driving to reduce its effects. Moreover, we must recognize the tendency to engage in these distracted behaviors in ourselves and work to eradicate them. One useful tactic is to store your phone away while driving so as to avoid this distraction altogether. Finally, drivers can ensure that all notifications on their cell phones are blocked when driving by downloading an application such as Down for the Count or Drivemode.4


Distracted driving is an incredibly ubiquitous, consequential phenomenon that must be ended. By recognizing the different types of distracted driving, we can all participate in creating change and ensuring that the second we buckle up distractions are put aside for the protection of everyone on the road.



  1. “Distracted Driving.” DMV.ORG, www.dmv.org/distracted-driving.php.


  1. Andrew.currin.ctr@dot.gov. “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” NHTSA, 6 Mar. 2020, www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving.


  1. “Three Types of Driving Distractions.” DMV.ORG, www.dmv.org/distracted-driving/three-types-of-distractions.php.


  1. “Taking Action Against Distracted Driving.” CraigHospital.ORG, 28 Apr. 2020, https://craighospital.org/blog/taking-action-against-distracted-driving.