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The Three Types of Distraction Behind the Wheel

Young woman reaching purse from back seat - rear view

The Three Types of Distraction Behind the Wheel

You’re driving down the freeway, and reach for your cup of coffee. Without looking, you pick it up, take a sip, then start to set it back down. But you misjudge where the cup holder is, and before you know it there’s coffee in your lap and you’re swerving in to the other lane. Situations like this happen every day on the road, and no matter how careful you are, there are some distractions that just can’t be avoided.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” There are three main types of distractions; manual, visual and cognitive.

Manual Distractions

Manual distractions happen when you take your hands away from the wheel. Reaching for your drink - the example in the beginning of this article – is a manual distraction. So is changing the radio station, fishing chapstick from your purse, or eating a hamburger.

Visual Distractions

Visual distractions take your eyes away from the road. Your coffee spilling in to your lap is a visual distraction. So is an accident on the side of the road, a glance at your passenger during an intense conversation, and a pretty sunset.

Cognitive Distractions

A cognitive distraction happens when your mind wanders from the task of driving. Thinking about your to-do list, a big project at work or a fight you just had with your spouse are all examples of cognitive distraction.

The Worst Offender

With all the different types of distractions out there for drivers, there is one that tops the rest when it comes to impairing your driving ability.


That’s because texting involves all three types of distractions. You’re messing with your phone (physical), you’re looking down at the buttons (visual), and you’re thinking about what emoji will best convey your mood (cognitive).

The effect of texting while driving is serious business. A study at the University of Utah found just talking on the phone while driving quadruples your risk of an accident; the same as if you were driving drunk. That risk doubles, to eight times the risk of an accident, if you’re texting.

This message is proudly sponsored by WMC Tri-State Medical Network.
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