Stay Focused — Keep Your Mind On The Road

Distracted Driving

For nearly a century, AAA has been the motorist’s voice in the public policy debate over issues involving the automobile. Through education, research and advocacy, AAA has worked to foster a safe traffic environment.

Today’s public policy debate focuses on distracted driving, which isn’t a new issue. It’s been around since the invention of windshield wipers in the early 1900s. During the past century, wipers and a host of other innovations designed to enhance motorists’ comfort, safety and convenience drew negative reaction until their benefits were understood and accepted and people learned to manage the distractions they caused.

Like earlier innovations, mobile phones and other in-vehicle navigation devices add a significant measure of convenience, safety and security to people’s lives. But concerns about their safe use are growing. The challenge, as in the past, is to maximize their benefits and reduce the dangerous distractions associated with their use. Data gathering efforts are underway to help us understand the level of distraction associated with mobile phones and other in-vehicle telecommunication devices and to help us determine if and to what extent regulation may be appropriate.

Distractions have always been a factor in the safe operation of a vehicle, and use of mobile phones and telematics devices are only two of many activities that distract today’s drivers. Removing these distractions is impossible, so the key to safe driving is learning how to manage them, and AAA is committed to helping drivers do so. Through a new national public service campaign — Stay Focused – Keep Your Mind on the Road — AAA will educate motorists about the significant safety risks associated with distractions and help develop solutions to improve safety on our nation’s roads.


Almost everyone has made driving mistakes that can be blamed on being distracted. Missing a turn, running off the road, reacting too slowly to a driver stopped in front of you... all are usually caused when the driver’s attention is somewhere other than on the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How serious is this issue?

Consider these recent statistics:

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • 18% of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
  • Texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distarcted.
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
Q: What is distracted driving?

Rubbernecking, adjusting the radio, attending to children, talking to a passenger, eating and drinking, using a mobile phone, reading a map — all are activities that divert the driver’s attention from the task at hand. And all place the driver, passengers and others on the road at risk.

There are three types of distraction:

Physical – Distractions that cause a driver to take his or her hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. Examples are tuning a radio or dialing a mobile phone. Even a momentary distraction can cause you to run off the road or miss a traffic signal.

Intellectual – Activities that take the driver’s mind off the road. Examples are having a conversation or thinking about what to prepare for dinner. How many times have you found your mind wandering while driving? Your eyes are on the road, but your mind is far from the task at hand.

Combination – Some activities take your hands, eyes and mind off the task at hand. An example is reading a map while driving.

Q: What effect do distractions have on driving ability?

Regardless of the reason, drivers who are distracted:

  • React more slowly to traffic conditions or events such as a car stopping to make a left turn or pulling out from a side road
  • Fail more often to recognize potential hazards such as pedestrians, bicycles or debris in the road.
  • Decrease their "margin of safety," leading them to take risks they might not otherwise take, such as turning left in front of oncoming traffic.

All are common factors associated with vehicle crashes. Driver focus is critical to anticipating and avoiding collisions.

Q: What are the most common types of driver distractions?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is sponsoring a University of North Carolina study to identify, through crash and field data, the major sources of driver distraction that result in crashes or near misses and to understand the relative importance of these distractions as a cause of crashes. Preliminary results of the study confirm that mobile phones are a distraction. But the preliminary data also confirm that other distractions such as looking at outside objects and tuning the radio/CD player also distract drivers. In fact, they contribute to more crashes than mobile phones. This suggests that educating motorists about distracted driving – focusing on all distractions, including mobile phones – would increase the overall safety of motorists.

Like any distraction, cell phones take the driver’s attention away from the road. But they’re not alone in this category.

Q: Is it true that a person talking on a mobile phone while driving is more likely to be involved in a crash?

We simply don’t know. Even nationally renowned researchers haven’t conclusively assessed the risks associated with driving and talking on a mobile phone.

A well-publicized 1997 study which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) examined the risks associated with mobile phones and found that "using a cellular phone was associated with a risk of having a motor vehicle collision that was about four times as high as that among the same drivers when they were not using their cellular phones." (Donald A. Redelmeier and Robert J. Tibshiriani, "Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," The New England Journal of Medicine 336:7, February 13, 1997, p. 456.) Yet the authors of this study went on to note that "Our study indicates an association but not necessarily a causal relation between the use of cellular telephones while driving and a subsequent motor vehicle collision... We caution against interpreting our data as showing that cellular telephones are harmful and that their use should be restricted. Even if a causal relationship with motor vehicle collisions were to be established, drivers are vulnerable to other distractions that could offset the potential reductions in risk due to restricting the use of cellular telephones." (Donald A. Redelmeier and Robert J. Tibshiriani, "Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," The New England Journal of Medicine 336:7, February 13, 1997, p. 456.)

Q: Is hands-free risk-free?

Authors of the NEJM study also examined the issue of whether hand-held mobile phones provide more benefit than hands-free mobile phones. They wrote: "We observed no safety advantage to hands-free as compared with hand-held telephones…Regardless of the explanation, our data do not support the policy followed in some countries of restricting hand-held cellular telephones but not those that leave the hands free." (Donald A. Redelmeier and Robert J. Tibshiriani, "Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," The New England Journal of Medicine 336:7, February 13, 1997, p. 456.)

This research shows that banning hand-held mobile phone use may be misguided public policy. Because mobile phones are visible, people believe they are the problem, and that mobile phones pose a greater risk than other distractions. Hands-free phones are not risk-free. The major distraction associated with mobile phone use is intellectual – the conversation – so drivers are similarly distracted when using either a hand-held or hands-free phone.

Q: What about new wireless devices being introduced by auto manufacturers?

Wireless systems in cars may soon become as commonplace as radios. The U.S. market for telematics is expected to reach $5 billion to $10 billion in 2005, according to auto industry experts.

Like many other organizations, AAA is exploring the possibility of providing telematics devices capable of delivering leading-edge wireless mobile emergency assistance and travel information.

Wireless systems in cars may soon become as commonplace as radios.

When manufactured to be as least distracting as possible and used with care, telematics devices can enhance the safety of drivers. The technology can be used for a variety of safety measures including warning drivers of mechanical problems, increasing speed and accuracy of emergency roadside assistance as well as helping vehicle owners gain access to locked vehicles.

These devices will also be able to ease congestion because they will link into "intellectual transportation systems" and inform the driver about traffic delays and potentially offer alternative routes.


Current studies suggest that some debate about the safety of using mobile phones while driving may be based on intuition and speculation rather than science. AAA will continue to encourage and evaluate related data and research, as it becomes available. AAA also is committed to educating motorists about the dangers of distracted driving and how to manage them.

Tips for managing distractions:

  • Recognize driving requires your full attention. If you find your mind wandering, remind yourself to stay focused on the road.
  • Avoid talking on the phone while driving.
  • If using a phone is unavoidable, use it at a safe time and place, keep the conversation short and postpone emotional or complex conversations until you are off the road.
  • Avoid taking calls while driving. Use the message-taking function on your mobile phone and return calls when stopped at a safe location.
  • Before you get behind the wheel, familiarize yourself with the features of your vehicle’s equipment.
  • Preset radio stations and climate control.
  • Secure items that may move around when the car is in motion.
  • Avoid smoking, eating, drinking and reading while driving.
  • Pull safely off the road and out of traffic to deal with children.
  • Do your personal grooming at home – not in the car.
  • Review maps before hitting the road.
  • Monitor traffic conditions before engaging in activities that could divert attention away from driving.
  • Ask a passenger to help you in activities that may be distracting.

Stay Focused - Keep Your Mind on the Road.