7 Most Dangerous Things To Do In Your Car

December 7, 2010
As you might already know, cars aren't exactly the safest way to get around.

Based on miles traveled, taking the car is many times more dangerous than taking a train and several times more dangerous than an airplane or bus. Yet we still take the car, right? For convenience—and driving enjoyment, in some cases—it's unbeatable.

And considering safety, there's a lot you can do to help minimize your chances of being in an accident. It's estimated, from federal data, that about 20 percent of all crashes are directly caused by some sort of distraction; that distraction can take a wide range of forms—mostly from things we're not supposed to be doing behind the wheel like eating, texting, or even putting on makeup.

And if you have several somewhat distracted drivers together? That's a recipe for disaster.

Keep your eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel. Here are seven things that you could do to make your time in the car even more dangerous:

 


 

Eating or drinking while driving is as dangerous as using a cellphone

Eating or drinking while driving is as dangerous as using a cellphone

Eat and drink. Whether it's In-N-Out Burger, Chic-fil-A, Krispy Kreme, or that new drive-thru find, fast food—if you behave and avoid it most days—can be a treat when you're on the road. But to stay safe, you should skip the burger and fries in your lap and eat inside—or out at a picnic table. Get out of the car for 20 minutes.

A number of studies have found that eating or drinking while driving can be just as dangerous as using a cellphone. That makes messy food and drink potentially accountable in some way for causing thousands of fatal accidents this past year alone. It seems like only time before fast-food restaurants need to include a warning about eating while driving...but...that itself would be distracting.

And beware the greasy food and sweets, both of which can make you drowsy. If you really must sip something while driving, bring a water bottle that doesn't have a lid to fall beside the seat, or sticky liquid to freak out about.

 

Coca-Cola 'Freestyle' machine by Pininfarina [via Dexigner]

Coca-Cola 'Freestyle' machine by Pininfarina [via Dexigner]

Rely on caffeine, sweets, or energy drinks. Many of these might hop you up for a few hours, but no matter what the claim they can drop you, unpredictably and suddenly, back into a slumber when you least expect it—potentially when you're still behind the wheel. Drowsy driving is a serious issue, with 17 percent of all fatal accidents involving drowsy driving. And in a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Survey, 41 percent admitted to nodding off while driving at some point.

To avoid feeling sleepy in the first place, start your trip with a good night of sleep, make frequent stops, stay hydrated, and eat light. And if you're feeling sleepy, as soon as possible pull over somewhere safe for a nap, or stop for the night.

  

Honda Element Dog-Friendly package

Honda Element Dog-Friendly package

Let your hound ride shotgun. Yes, we've seen people driving around with pets on their laps, or riding shotgun with the windows down, and yes, it's pretty darned cute. But it's actually extremely dangerous—increasing both the likelihood of injury to all creatures in the vehicle and the chances that you might get in one. According to the AAA, the airbag itself can cause more injury to the pet, in a low-speed accident, than the crash itself; unrestrained, an 80-pound dog can turn into a potentially lethal projectile, exerting 2,400 pounds in a 30-mph crash.

An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study earlier this year found that up to one-third of dog owners report being distracted by their pet while driving, while nearly a quarter said that they'd allowed their pet to ride in their lap.

So do your entire family a favor: buckle every creature up, and don't let the dog ride shotgun. A number of suppliers also make dog harnesses compatible with automotive seatbelts; otherwise consider a kennel that can be secured down, or a pet gate like those offered by Honda, Volvo, Subaru, and others.

 

Texting while driving

Texting while driving

Text, Tweet, Facebook. You could write a long, distracting e-book out of all the texting- and distraction-related headlines that have appeared here over the past several years. While the cellphone industry, the auto industry, and safety groups might differ on what's safe and what isn't, there's no arguing that taking your eyes off the road—for long enough to compose a thought or distill a piece of information—is highly distracting. Yes, some of the details of what's distracting and what's not are still debatable, but nearly all study results have repeatedly shown that texting (along with Tweeting, Facebooking, and any activity that involves looking at a screen) or using a keypad is more distracting than talking.

What's especially worrisome is that teens in the 13-17 age group, who will soon be behind the wheel, send on average well over 3,000 texts per month. As of the time of posting, 30 states and the District of Columbia have all-out band on texting, while beginning drivers are banned in eight additional states. While in-car apps might make some tasks a little easier, it's hard to overlook study results from last year suggesting that the risk of crash while texting is 23 times higher than during non-distracted driving.

 

Apple iPhone

Apple iPhone

Make calls. Mobile phones have become a fact of everyday life, and some sleepwalk through their real lives, barely acknowledging those around them, obnoxiously chatting about office politics or the latest reality show. If they're having trouble noticing which double mocha soy latte is theirs, or that the crosswalk involves a step up, how are they going to pay attentioan to traffic laws, see pedestrians, or make an emergency maneuver? Talking isn't as physically involving as texting, but it's surely distracting.

While a number of automakers have rolled out some innovative hands-free solutions—like Ford, with its Sync connectivity system—and so far a number of states have limited hand-held cellphone use. However, rates of fatal distraction haven't dropped. 

But isn't that chatty passenger just as distracting as a call, you might ask? Research has shown that cognitive distraction can be especially dangerous from phone calls compared to real passengers, as passengers will usually know to pause the conversation for close calls or situations that demand full attention.

 

 

Digital billboard

Digital billboard

Read billboards. This one seems relatively innocuous, but billboards can be a potentially deadly distraction. Highway signs are designed to be rapidly readable, with the same size letters, same font, and reflective material that will remain readable but not too overwhelmingly bright at night. That can't be said about billboards. Most dangerous, it's suspected by some safety experts—counter to what the ad industry insists, of course—are newer dynamic digital billboard arrays that show full-motion video—essentially attention-grabbing commercials. Some have the sort of bright, rapid movement that might be find for younger drivers but can dazzle older, slower-reacting eyes in the dark. This one's controversial, but the best advice is keep your eyes on the road.

 

Drowsy drivers to receive a shock

Drowsy drivers to receive a shock

Get too comfortable. Resist the temptation to prop your feet up on the seat, recline your seat way back, or even slip your shoes off. Yes, it's a recipe for drowsiness, but there are other reasons; if you are in a crash, you might not be in the proper place to take the best advantage of your car's airbags and safety systems. Likewise, don't let your passengers sleep unbelted; and those resting feet up on the dash or out the window might get in the way of airbags. Get your seats properly adjusted, along with your mirrors, and stick to a proper driving position; you'll be safer for it.
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