The Dangers of Distracted Driving: Why You Really Shouldn't Selfie Behind the Wheel

It’s just not worth it

Most of us are guilty of using our phone while driving (and hastily dropping it into our laps when we see a police car). We’re so attached to our phones that it sometimes feels like there isn’t anything we can’t do while holding it, driving included. But ‘distracted driving’, which includes using your phone in any way while behind the wheel is dangerous, in fact it’s on par with driving while drunk.

Over the past 20 years cellphone users have grown and with that cellphone-related car crashes have too. Tech companies saw the problem and began to make solutions like hands-free headsets and apps like Maps in the hope that keeping peoples’ hands free would make for safer roads. Unfortunately this hasn’t worked, and highway deaths are the highest they have ever been. With stories like this where a teenager used Snapchat to record her car’s high speed moments before the car crashed and killed five people, experts have good reason to think that smartphones and apps are to blame.

What’s the problem?

Simply put, being on your phone makes you a worse driver. People who use their phone while driving:

  • Aren’t as aware of what’s going on and around them on the road
  • Miss out on seeing important road signs
  • Struggle to maintain a steady and legal speed
  • Have slower reactions so they take longer to brake
  • Are more likely to not leave a safe gap between other cars
  • Feel more frustrated and stressed behind the wheel.

What if you barely use your phone while driving though?

Studies show that pretty much everyone goes on their phone while driving, around 88% of us. Most people think their phone usage is reasonable or acceptable, and that their multi-tasking skills are good enough to avoid a serious crash. But just by looking at your phone for 2 seconds can increase the likelihood of crashing by 20 times. We aren’t loving those odds. Two seconds sound short but it’s enough time to cover the length of two rugby fields. Plus deep down we know no one has the self-control to only look at their phone for 2 seconds so our risk of crashing is actually way higher.

Woman driving car


What is ‘distracted driving’?

‘Distracted driving’ is the term used to include any form of driving where you’re not giving the fact that you’re hurtling through the air at 80KM/h your full attention. This includes chatting on your phone or searching through music on your phone, taking photos, looking at Maps, and putting on makeup. It is estimated that 1 in 4 crashes in South Africa are caused because the driver was distracted by their phone.

There are four types of driver distractions: manual (this is something that causes you to take one or both hands off the wheel, like eating), visual (like looking at a message on your phone, or using your front camera to check you got all the poppy seeds out of your teeth from that muffin you just ate), auditory (like playing loud music and screaming ‘THIS IS MY JAM’ over and over, which could make you miss important sounds), and cognitive (anything that affects your concentration, like being exhausted). Using your phone can check all four of these distractions, and although you might like to think of yourself as something of a multitasker this is not an area where you want to put that skill to the test.

How can we do better without, like, throwing our phone out the window?

Unfortunately for all my smartphone addicts out there (i.e. roughly every human on earth) the only real way to combat this is to just stop using your phone while driving FFS. Your messages can wait until you’re out the car and if they’re really that important then pull over to reply. Here are some tips for coping:

1 Avoid loopholes

Be wary of any technology or app that seems to make it easier for you to use your phone while driving. Bluetooth headsets are an auditory distraction, as you have to switch your concentration between the real world and your earphones. Also they look extremely uncool. Your Apple Watch is also dangerously distracting and you can actually get arrested for using it while behind the wheel.

2 Let your phone guide you

It’s been shown that following verbal instructions is safer than following visual instructions. So if you’re using Maps to guide you, rather turn on whatever robot voice your phone comes with to tell you what to do than glancing at a map on your screen every few seconds.

3 Outsource your photography

We get why you want to take a selfie behind the wheel. It shows you’re a boss who owns a car plus the natural daylight makes your skin glow. But make sure any time you use your phone to take a photo you are safely pulled over. Or get one of your friends to ride everywhere with you and act as a passenger seat photographer. That’s what friends are for.

4 Don’t think you’re the exception

You might think that you’ve been using your phone this whole time without incident, so why stop now? Don’t overestimate your own good fortune; it’s not worth harming yourself or someone else on the road. Imagine serving time in jail because you couldn’t wait to watch your crush’s Instastory?

5 Pre-plan your playlist

Another action that we probably wouldn’t even consider a distraction is choosing music, but browsing through your Spotify while on the highway takes a good few seconds and isn’t a good idea. Select your playlist before you head out so there’s no chance you’ll need to skip through songs you aren’t feeling RN.

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