When it comes to someone driving while distracted, cell phones seem to get all the bad press. And some of it is well-deserved.
Distractions and inattention while driving are estimated to cause 1.2 million crashes - about 25 percent of all crashes - on American roads. One estimate says cells phones contribute to about 60,000 auto accidents a year in the United States.
But according to the February issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, other distractions are even more dangerous. Eating, looking at a map, reaching for something and watching something outside your car, such as an accident scene, are some of the more common distractions that are at least as likely, or more likely -- to lead to an auto accident.
What's the worst distraction? Reaching for a moving object inside the car, according to a study on driver distractions published last year. Researchers equipped 100 cars with a camera that filmed the driver and a sensor system that detected accidents or near accidents. The cars were driven a cumulative distance of about 2 million miles by 241 different drivers. In that time, there were 82 crashes and 761 near crashes.
Researchers determined that reaching for a moving object inside the car increased the crash or near crash risk eight times. Looking at something outside the car increased risk 3.7 times. Dialing a cell phone increased risk 2.8 times. Eating, reaching for an object or talking on a cell phone increased risk 1.5 times.
Eliminating every distraction may not be feasible, but you can minimize risk with these safe-driving tips:
• Cage, leash or harness a pet before you travel.
• If you must eat or drink, have a passenger hand you items or arrange them within easy reach.
• Take time before you drive to adjust the seat, mirrors, seat belt and radio.
• Pull over when you talk on the cell phone. If you must talk and drive, keep conversations brief and have a passenger dial, and use a headset.