Most adults who drive regularly admit to engaging in distracting
behaviors while behind the wheel, according to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay
poll. Eighty-six percent eat or drink while driving, 59 percent use
a hand-held cellphone, 41 percent fiddle with their GPS device, 37
percent text and 14 percent apply makeup, according to the poll.
"Distracted driving can be deadly driving," says Julie Lee, vice
president and national director of AARP Driver Safety. "Researchers
are finding that any type of distraction is risky, not just the ones
we typically think of as dangerous, like texting or talking on the
In fact, a study led by Dr. Peter Snyder, vice president of
research for Lifespan, a Rhode Island-based health system, found
that a strong urge to urinate can impair your functioning as
effectively as drinking alcohol or being sleep-deprived. And the
effects of hunger, thirst and tiredness on attention spans and
reflex times have been well known for years.
Here are three other potentially distracting behaviors and
situations that you might not view as risky:
We all do it,
especially when we're in a hurry to make an appointment, have
skipped a meal or just can't make it through the rest of the
drive without a cup of joe. But eating or drinking while driving
involves taking at least one hand -- and part of your attention
-- off the wheel.
Consider the 2011 case of a woman in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.
Police said she hit a guardrail and flipped her Subaru when she
spilled hot coffee during her morning drive. Fortunately, she
sustained only minor injuries.
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-- Many pet owners think of their dogs as their children. But
while they're diligent about buckling up the kids and grandkids,
they don't always secure their dogs while in the car. Allowing
your pet to ride unrestrained -- in your lap, beside you or in
the backseat -- is dangerous for you and him. A survey by AAA
and Kurgo Pet Products found that 65 percent of respondents had
participated in at least one dog-related distracting behavior
while driving, such as petting (52 percent) or allowing the dog
to sit in their lap (17 percent). Restraining your pet can help
minimize driver distractions, restrict the pet's movement in
case of a crash and protect pets from potentially being harmed
by inflating airbags.
-- Slowing down or
pulling over to get a better look at an accident not only
displays a lack of tact, it could also cause another accident.
If your eyes are on the crash you're approaching -- or passing
-- they're not on the road ahead of you. As recently as August,
police in Greenbelt, Md., cited rubbernecking as the probable
cause of a double accident that shut down a major highway during
morning rush hour. A Maryland State Police representative told
the Greenbelt Patch that police see rubbernecking accidents "all
"Although drivers age 50 and older are less likely to engage in
distracting behaviors like texting or using a hand-held cellphone
behind the wheel, they may face other challenges, such as natural
changes in vision, hearing and reaction times," says Lee.
Brushing up on driving skills can help older drivers manage
health-related changes that may come with age. AARP's Driver Safety
course is specifically designed to help people 50 and older refresh
their driving skills. To find a classroom course near you, visit
www.aarp.org/drive or call
888-227-7669, or sign up for an online course. Courses are available
in English or Spanish.