The 8 (Possibly Illegal) Things We All Do While Driving

And YES, you can get in trouble with the law if you keep doing them

distracted driving

As we discuss often on Quoted, especially recently during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, distracted driving behaviors extend far beyond texting. Yes, at any time in the U.S. there are an estimated 660,000 drivers on the road using electronic devices, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – that’s 7% of drivers distracted by electronics at all times, and an untold additional percentage who are distracted in general.

The risks are real: distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015, and caused 391,000 injuries. But just what does “distracted driving” entail? We know we shouldn’t drink or use drugs and drive, and we (most of us) know drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving. And when it comes to texting and driving, the verdict is in: it’s deadly.

But what about all those other things we do behind the wheel? You may not know it, but many of the driving behaviors you do every day can also be considered dangerous – even illegal.

8 Could-Be Illegal Distracted Driving Behaviors:

1. Listening to Loud Music

If you’re listening to music so loudly that you can’t hear important traffic noises (like honking horns, ambulances, approaching trains), you’re engaging in a distracted driving behavior.

2. Grooming

You might think you’ve got your eyeliner or nose hair trimming routine down enough to do it in the car, but even glancing away from the road for a moment is incredibly dangerous. Wait until you reach your destination to primp.

distracted driving

3. Getting Dressed

Putting on clothes, or changing them, while behind the wheel isn’t safe. Don’t try putting on or taking off a cardigan or jacket on the road. Don’t try to lace up your shoes (even if you’re running late), and certainly don’t pull any item of clothing over your head. It seems obvious to say, but these behaviors split your attention, block your vision, and take your hands off the wheel.

4. Using Headphones

Like loud music, listening to music through headphones can prevent you from hearing important traffic noises. This one’s on-the-books illegal in many states (and it’s dangerous everywhere).

5. Eating

Not only does eating take your attention away from the road as you operate a powerful motorized object, it can be a hazard in and of itself to you. Consider this: if food goes “down the wrong pipe” and you start choking while going 80 mph down the freeway, you’ll have to somehow safely pull off to the side (which isn’t even an option on every road), get out, and either have a passenger give you the heimlich (if you’re lucky enough to not be driving alone) or find a way to do it yourself. All while not breathing. (Please note our tone: the likelihood of any of these things actually occurring in this frightening scenario is essentially ZERO!)

Really makes it seem worth it to wait a few extra minutes until you can eat while not behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Awareness Twitter Chat

6. Talking to Passengers

We’ve discussed how distracted driving comes in visual, physical and cognitive forms, and talking to passengers can be especially cognitively distracting. Consider a friend who wants to share a problem or secret while on a long road trip, or a scenario in which you’re in an argument with others in the vehicle and tensions rise. Engaging in emotional or otherwise very involved conversation can bode poorly for your driving skills.

Okay, maybe you can’t stop talking to passengers altogether (especially if the passengers are young children or a friend dictating directions to our destination), but it’s important to understand that talking to people in the vehicle can be a major distraction. In these scenarios, pause the conversation and tell your passenger you need a few moments to find a safe place to pull over.

7. Reading

Just because you aren’t reading a text message doesn’t mean reading while driving is okay. We’re not just talking about reading a book while behind the wheel (we all know that’s about 10 steps too far), we’re also talking about reading maps and GPS systems (even in-dash ones). Turn on the audio or pull over to look at directions.

8. Talking on the Phone 

Even hands-free calls are incredibly distracting for drivers, and therefore incredibly dangerous. Drivers talking on their hands-free phone can miss up to 50% of what’s happening in their surroundings, even while looking directly out the windshield. While hands-free phones are usually technically legal, many states limit who can use them; usually drivers under 18, new drivers, and drivers on restricted licenses cannot.

Exactly how dangerous are these distracted driving behaviors?

Very. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as: “Any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

The football field analogy is well-worn, so we’ll emphasize the dangers of taking your eyes off the road a different way: looking anywhere but directly out the windshield (or glancing at your side and rearview mirrors) is akin to driving with your eyes closed (no matter how much you convince yourself you have “one eye on the road”).

If you’re driving 65 mph, you’ll travel a little more than 95 feet in just one second. Take 3 seconds to glance away (to apply makeup, read a map, reach for something in the back seat), and you’ll have traveled 285 feet. That’s the same as driving the equivalent vertical distance as a skyscraper with your eyes closed.

But are they really illegal?

Could you actually be punished for any of the above “distracted driving” behaviors?

Well…yeah. Legislation in many cities does touch on broader distracted driving behaviors (check out our hometown of Austin, for example). Although many other behaviors aren’t explicitly considered criminal activity outside of phone use (even hands-free), engaging in any activity that causes the driver to drive distracted and recklessly is absolutely punishable by law.

Now, is it likely you’ll get pulled over for having the radio on or speaking to a friend in the passenger seat? Probably not. That would mean just about everyone on the road would be pulled over. (And note that if ever you are driving safely yet a police officer attempts to pull you over and you don’t feel comfortable or safe in your environment, you can always call to verify that the vehicle attempting to pull you over is credible.)

But if a traffic cop happens to see you swerving in and out of your lane because you’re head banging and blasting your speakers or getting gussied up behind the wheel, you could be pulled over and ticketed for with reckless driving, which will of course raise your insurance rates. And, if your distracted driving behavior causes a crash, you may face legal issues and perhaps even criminal charges.

Our final advice is simple, when you’re behind the wheel just drive!