The Three Types of Distracted Driving and How to Avoid Them

driver hand adjusting vehicle settings

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Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents on the road and can be a serious danger to drivers, passengers, and other road users. In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that distracted driving-related crashes take away nine lives daily.

There are three types of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions take your eyes off the road, manual distractions take your hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions take your mind off of driving.

Moreover, common distractions, like eating and using mobile phones while driving, fall into the “triple threat” distraction category, meaning they are visual, manual, and cognitive distractions.

In this article, we’ll explore each type of distraction and provide tips on how to avoid them. Read on to learn how you can keep your fleet and business safe from the perils of distracted driving.

What Are the Three Main Categories of Distracted Driving?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving comes in three different forms:

Visual distraction: when a driver takes their eyes off of the road.

Manual distraction: when a driver takes their hand/s off of the wheel.

Cognitive distraction (mental distraction): when a driver’s mind is not fully focused on driving.

1. Visual Driving Distraction

A visual driving distraction is any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off of the road. This can be anything from checking a text message, glancing at your GPS route, looking at your passengers, rubbernecking, checking out a flashy billboard, or simply admiring the sunset on the drive home.

Unfortunately, even a momentary glance away from the road can significantly increase the risk of an accident. Moreover, since there are no specific laws against visual driving distractions, they are much harder to catch and control.

The good news is that many driver dashcams can detect visual driving distractions. Via AI detection, driver dashcams can track when your drivers take their eyes off the road and flag their behavior. The best part? You have a video recording of the specific incident, so you have solid proof of the incident, which you can use to train and upskill your drivers.

Wait up! Before you install a tracking device in your vehicle, it’s important to inform your drivers in advance. To stay fully compliant with the rules of your state, our research on vehicle tracking laws can help.

2. Manual Driving Distraction

A manual driving distraction can be anything that requires a driver to take their hands off the wheel, such as snacking, fiddling with the stereo, using a mobile device, or grabbing something from the backseat.

Given the fast-paced nature of driving, even a split-second hand diversion can spell disaster, especially when traveling at high speeds or when there is heavy traffic.

Many states have implemented a hands-free law that prohibits the use of any electronic devices unless they are in hands-free mode. However, research suggests that hands-free devices are not that much safer since they still create mental distractions (which we’ll discuss next).

3. Cognitive Driving Distraction

Cognitive driving distractions happen when you’re not 100% mentally present on the road. It can take many forms, such as daydreaming, having a ‘eureka’ moment while listening to a podcast, and worrying about possibly having left the stove on.

The tricky thing about cognitive distractions is that they can be hard to detect and remedy. We’ve done our research and found that daydreaming is not illegal in any state in the US. Moreover, stress and fatigue can exacerbate cognitive distractions as these make it more difficult for drivers to focus on the road.

Out of the three types of distractions, cognitive distractions are the hardest to track as drivers hardly register that they’re mentally distracted until it’s too late. To minimize cognitive distractions, it’s important for drivers to be mindful and self-aware while driving. You can also encourage them to take regular breaks to stay alert while driving.

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What is a Triple Threat?

A “triple threat” driving distraction is one that involves all three types of distractions – visual, manual, and cognitive. Examples of triple threat distractions include using a handheld device or eating while behind the wheel.

These types of distractions are especially hazardous because they pull the driver’s attention in multiple directions at once, making it difficult to react quickly to unexpected situations on the road. In fact, using a phone while driving – a common triple threat distraction – can be as profound as driving under the influence of alcohol.

How You Can Best Limit Distractions While Driving

Traffic accident fatalities caused by distracted driving have dramatically increased in recent years. In 2020 alone, 3,142 individuals lost their lives and 324,652 others were injured due to distracted driving in the US.

As a fleet manager, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of your drivers and other road users by implementing policies and practices that minimize distractions while driving. Here are some practical ways to limit distracted driving:

  • Implement a no-phone policy: Encourage your drivers to review their route before they start their trip, to turn off distracting notifications, and avoid checking messages when they are in motion.
  • Monitor driving behavior using fleet tracking devices: You can install telematics devices, such as driver dash cams, to help you monitor distracted drivers as well as keep record of your driver’s eye movements. We’ve compiled a list of the best telematics companies.
  • Provide training and education on the dangers of distracted driving, and the importance of staying focused and alert while driving.
  • Encourage your drivers to take a break when they’re feeling fatigued.
  • Prohibit eating, drinking, and smoking on the road.
  • Boost driver morale by rewarding good behavior with incentives.
  • Keep the use of hands-free devices to a minimum.
  • Remind them to reduce the time spent adjusting the vehicle’s settings.
  • Listen to your drivers’ needs and be open to feedback.

The Consequences of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving can have a significant financial impact on your business, with work injury costs at $1100 per worker. Furthermore, when drivers lose focus behind the wheel, it’s not just their safety that’s at stake. Fleet costs can take a hit, with reduced productivity, mounting medical expenses, and vehicle repair costs – which all stack up. Even when employees utilize hands-free devices, employers are still subject to   $25 million in liability for employee crashes.

Additionally, collisions may lead to higher insurance premiums, as well as potential reputational damages to your business. In 2019, the NHTSA estimated that distracted driving crashes cost the US economy  $340 billion.

Next Steps

Distracted driving can be classified into three types: visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Visual distractions occur when drivers take their eyes off the road, for instance, when looking at their phones, GPS, or passengers. Manual distractions happen when drivers take their hands off the steering wheel, such as when they’re adjusting the radio, eating, or drinking. Cognitive distractions occur when the driver’s mind wanders, and they become less focused on driving, for example, when they’re daydreaming, worrying, or driving while fatigued.

It can be challenging to track distracted driving. Thankfully, we’ve found that the best fleet management software companies offer powerful driver management tools to help improve the safety and efficiency of your drivers and your fleet.

Want a quick and easy way to connect with top-rated fleet management companies that best match your business’ needs? Use our free quote comparison tool to receive tailored, obligation-free quotes from leading providers in the US. Don’t settle for anything less than the best – keep your drivers focused on the road and eliminate distractions with the right technology.


How can you best limit cell phone distractions while driving?
The best way to limit cell phone distractions while driving is to establish a clear policy on cell phone use while driving, including guidelines on when and how phones can be used, and consequences for violating the policy. You can also use telematics devices that can detect when drivers are using their phones while driving.
What is the best method for operating a cell phone while driving to avoid being distracted?
You might think we’re being too strict, but the safest option really is not to use one at all. However, an acceptable alternative is to use hands-free devices – make use of Bluetooth devices and activate the mobile voice control features. Mounting mobile phones in an area where drivers can check their route at a glance can also help.

Just note that even hands-free devices can still be distracting and can impair your driver’s ability to focus. To reiterate, the safest approach is to prohibit phone use altogether.

What are the three most common distractions inside a car?
The top three in-vehicle distractions are: mobile phone use, eating, and adjusting vehicle settings.
What are at least three dangers of distracted driving?
Distracted driving can increase the probability of vehicle accidents, which can lead to injuries and deaths. It also comes with legal and financial consequences and can damage your business’ reputation.
Written by:
With over six years of experience helping businesses scale through strategic marketing research, Pam delivers the most useful tech advice for small businesses and beyond. At Expert Market, she probes into the world of fleet management systems to help business owners get the most bang for their buck.