It’s Not Just Phones: Seven Other Common Causes of Distracted Driving

Causes of distracted drivingMost people know about the typical distracted driving practices, such as texting, surfing the web, talking on the phone, adjusting the address on a GPS, and playing with the radio. But did you know a good song (or a “good boy”) can distract drivers, too?

Today, we wanted to look at some other types of driver distractions. These might not get the same attention as texting does, but every one of them can cause an accident. Here are seven interesting distracted driving practices that may surprise you:

1.     Listening to music that you love

Whether your favorite song comes on the radio or you put your favorite CD in the CD player, you may start to sing and dance to the music. While you may think that this is completely harmless, it can significantly impact your driving abilities. A JAMA study published in 2021 found that the louder the music gets, the more distracting it becomes, and the more slowly we react to stimuli.  That personal concert you’re having behind the wheel can turn out to be pretty dangerous.

2.     Allowing your dog to ride in the car with you

Many people bring their pets everywhere, which means there are a lot of drivers out there with pets in their cars. However, we’re not always doing the right thing when it comes to driving with pets. From Psychology Today:

An online survey conducted on behalf of the Selective Insurance Group, Inc. Data was gathered from 2,044 American adults aged 18 and older. In this sample, there were 992 individuals who drove a vehicle with their dogs in the past 12 months…

Most of the survey participants (82 percent) agreed that having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle can distract the driver. Nonetheless, 70 percent of the licensed drivers who responded to the survey admitted that their own dogs were unrestrained in their vehicles…. According to the survey, 38 percent of the canine passengers were unrestrained in the backseat. Twenty-four percent rode shotgun in the front passenger seat. Twenty-three percent of the dogs were in a passenger’s lap, and remarkably, more than 1 in 7 (17 percent) typically rode in the driver’s lap.

Drivers do not treat their dogs as simply passive cargo during their trips. Fifty percent admit to petting their dog while driving, 40 percent talk to their dogs (or yell at them), and 36 percent give them treats or water while the car is in motion. Simply having the dog in the back seat of the car does not prevent interactions with them since one-third (33 percent) of drivers admit that they often turn to look back at them while the car is moving….  Around 40 percent of those who have driven with their dog in the vehicle admitted that they engaged in some form of reckless driving because the dog was present at the time.

If your dog rides in the car with you, they should be in some type of restraint system or kennel to prevent any distractions. Your dog should never ride on your lap while you are driving, and you should refrain from constantly turning around to pay them attention.

3.     Grabbing a bite to eat while behind the wheel

According to, more than 70 percent of motor vehicle drivers stated that they eat while driving. Given how many cup holders there are in cars, such behavior appears to be encouraged by car manufacturers. But spilling or dropping part of your lunch or coffee into your lap can cause a huge distraction while behind the wheel. Drivers are likely to get flustered and pay more attention to cleaning themselves up. They can also suffer serious burn injuries, and the pain can be distracting as well.

4.     Reaching for that item you dropped

You’d think that, with all the safe driving campaigns that encourage people to put their phones on silent or in the glovebox, or tell you to pull over if you need to make a phone call, that “don’t keep driving if you drop something on the floor” wouldn’t be necessary. But every year, people get into collisions because they dropped their phones, their wallets, cigarettes, drinks, or other items on the floor, or because they want something from their bag or purse, and then continue to drive while they try to reach that item. A 2019 study by the National Institutes of Health found that “teens who were reaching for something while driving increased their risk [of a crash] nearly sevenfold, which researchers attributed to a combination of distractions, including taking their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel.”

5.     Driving while crying, upset, stressed, or mad

It is a normal part of life to experience tense times where you feel mad, stressed, upset, or emotional. However, when you get behind the wheel while crying or in the middle of an argument, you are putting you, your passengers, and other drivers at risk of an accident. Negative emotions are more likely to lead to risky behaviors like distracted driving, though anyone who’s ever lost control of themselves laughing can tell you there are risks to excessive happiness, too. But the person who is crying behind the wheel may start fumbling for a tissue or a napkin, and the angry driver may “zone in” on one particular car, while failing to notice changes in traffic patterns around them. In short, an emotional driver is an easily distracted driver.

6.     Feeling the need to use the restroom

When you are driving for an extended period of time, you may eventually feel like you have a full bladder and need to use the restroom. However, sometimes, the nearest rest stop or your destination can feel like it is an eternity away. As a result, your concentration levels may decrease because you may be more worried about finding a restroom than focusing on the roads and driving.

A study that won a Nobel prize in 2011 showed that the need to use the restroom “significantly impaired attention and working memory functions.” To make things even more interesting, the researchers conducting this study determined that “the magnitude of this cognitive impairment was equivalent to that observed in healthy adults with a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration or those who are fatigued following 24 hours of sustained wakefulness.”

7.     Checking on your child in the backseat

When your child is in the backseat of your car, they should be properly buckled up or in a car seat depending on their age, weight, and height. Whether they are asleep or playing in their seat, you are most likely tempted to continue checking on them. Although this is normal parent behavior, it can be very distracting while behind the wheel.

But kids can also engage in distracting behaviors. The screaming child, the kicking child, the “throw this toy at Mom’s head” child – each of these behaviors can distract a driver. It can also increase your stress level which, as we previously pointed out, can be distracting in and of itself.

The science behind why drivers get distracted

According to the American Safety Council, there are two main reasons why people become distracted while driving. The first reason is that some activities that drivers participate in, such as texting, posting on social media, or talking on the phone, release a tiny amount of dopamine inside the brain. While it is only a small amount, that feeling can be addictive. This can cause issues with making sound decisions, as people would rather increase their dopamine levels by checking their phones than to ensure that they make it to their destinations safely.

The second reason is that our brains can trick us into thinking that we can multitask and handle everything we are doing while also operating a dangerous motor vehicle. The unfortunate reality is that many people are unable to drive and do something else successfully. While you may think that you are one of the small number of people who can, the chances are that you are just lucky that your distractions have not caught up to you yet. Drivers develop a false sense of confidence when behind the wheel, and the brain constantly has to manage two or more different tasks quickly, which is a hazardous situation waiting to happen.

If you have been involved in a car accident with a distracted driver, please reach out to the Charlotte distracted driving attorneys at Price, Petho & Associates at your earliest opportunity. Our lawyers are experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable when it comes to these types of cases, and we are ready to stand up and fight for your rights and the compensation you are owed for your losses. Call our office or submit our contact form to schedule your free case review at one of our offices located in Charlotte, Rockingham, or Rutherfordton today.