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AAA’s April Warning: Avoid distractions while behind the wheel

disstracteddriver 600In recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AAA is warning drivers to avoid any activities that divert attention from the primary driving task.

"While we've made substantial progress in the past few years by raising awareness about risky driving behaviors, the simple fact is that distraction continues to be a significant contributing factor to deaths and injuries on our roadways," said AAA Traffic Safety manager, John Pecchio. "We all should take personal responsibility for focusing on driving rather than on dangerous distractions."

Distractions are responsible for vehicle crashes leading to more than 3,000 deaths and 387,000 injuries in 2011, according to the most recent data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Driving distractions come in all forms. A few examples are:

* Texting
* Using a handheld or hands-free cell phone
* Conversing with passengers
* Eating/drinking
* Using a navigation system (GPS)
* Personal grooming

The use of electronic devices are among the most well-known and common sources of distraction for drivers. Text messaging behind the wheel is one of the riskiest things a driver can do as it involves manual, visual, and mental distraction simultaneously. Any kind of cell phone use can be risky. There is a public misperception that using a hands-free cell phone reduces risk but research states otherwise.

"The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety completed groundbreaking research last year finding that mental distraction by itself dangerously affects drivers behind the wheel," said Pecchio. "The research showed that hands-free features, increasingly common in new vehicles, are actually among the most mentally distracting. Just because a drivers' eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel does not mean that they are safely focusing on driving."

Here are AAA's top 10 tips to avoid distractions while driving

10. Fully focus on driving and do not let anything divert your attention. Actively scan the road, use your mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.

9. Store loose gear, possessions and other distractions that could roll around in the car, so you do not feel tempted to reach for them on the floor or the seat.

8. Make adjustments before your drive. Address vehicle systems like your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time.

7. Finish dressing and personal grooming at home – before you get on the road.

6. Snack smart. If possible, eat meals or snacks before or after your trip, not while driving. On the road, avoid messy foods that can be difficult to manage.

5. Secure children and pets before getting underway. If they need your attention, pull off the road safely to care for them. Reaching into the backseat can cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

4. Don't use cell phones while driving – handheld or hands-free – except in absolute emergencies. Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.

3. If you have passengers, enlist their help so you can focus safely on driving.

2. If another activity demands your attention, instead of trying to attempt it while driving, pull off the road and stop your vehicle in a safe place. To avoid temptation, power down or stow devices before heading out.

1. As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of some other activity, it's a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.

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