What are the three main categories of distracted driving?

What are the three main categories of distracted driving?


More than 3,500 people died in distracted driving crashes in a recent year, and thousands more suffered serious injuries. Likely, even more crashes happened due to distractions, but the driver never admitted to texting or engaging in an activity other than driving.

Since the rise of smartphones, distracted driving has become so much of a public safety threat that every state except one enacted laws restricting certain phone usage while driving. However, even with these laws, many people still drive while distracted and cause serious accidents and injuries. 

If you believe a distracted driver caused your injuries, speak with a car accident attorney in Wisconsin as soon as possible. 


What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is a dangerous behavior that occurs when a driver diverts their attention away from the primary task of operating a vehicle. This diversion can take various forms and includes any activity that shifts the driver’s focus from the road. 


Top 3 Distracted Driving Categories

Distracted driving includes many activities, which can be categorized as visual, manual, and cognitive distractions, and often involves a combination of these elements.


Visual distractions while driving are activities that divert a driver’s eyes away from the road. This dangerous behavior includes tasks like texting, looking at a mobile device, reading a map, or gazing at objects inside the vehicle. Even a momentary lapse in visual attention can have serious consequences, as it impairs the driver’s ability to react to sudden changes or hazards on the road. 

Visual distractions are a leading cause of accidents, injuries, and fatalities, emphasizing the importance of maintaining focus on the road at all times. It’s crucial for drivers to prioritize safety by avoiding these distractions and keeping their eyes on the road.


Manual distractions while driving involve taking one or both hands off the wheel, diverting attention from the road. These actions can lead to accidents, as they compromise the driver’s ability to steer and respond quickly. Common examples include texting, adjusting the radio, eating, or reaching for objects within the vehicle. 

Even momentary manual distractions can have serious consequences. Drivers should always keep both hands on the wheel while on the road.


Cognitive distractions while driving occur when a driver’s focus shifts away from the road, impairing their ability to react to potential hazards. Unlike physical distractions, cognitive distractions involve mental engagement elsewhere, such as daydreaming, deep conversations, or being preoccupied with emotional stressors. 

Even though the eyes may be on the road, the mind is not fully engaged in driving, increasing the risk of accidents. It’s vital for drivers to stay mentally present and focused on driving to ensure their safety and the safety of others on the road.


The Deadliest Driving Distraction: Texting and Driving

Texting and driving stands as one of the most lethal forms of distracted driving, posing a grave danger to road safety. This behavior involves the act of composing, reading, or sending text messages on a mobile device while operating a vehicle. It is exceptionally dangerous due to its ability to simultaneously engage all three forms of distraction.

  • Visual Distraction: When a driver texts, their eyes are diverted from the road to the screen of their mobile device. This means they are not visually aware of the surrounding traffic, potential hazards, or changes in road conditions. Even a momentary lapse in visual attention can lead to catastrophic consequences.
  • Manual Distraction: Texting necessitates the use of one or both hands to manipulate the mobile device. This means that the driver’s hands are off the steering wheel, compromising their ability to respond swiftly to sudden changes or emergencies on the road.
  • Cognitive Distraction: Composing a text message requires mental focus and attention. This cognitive diversion shifts the driver’s concentration away from the primary task of driving, impairing their ability to make quick decisions and react to unexpected situations.

The combination of these three distractions makes texting and driving especially hazardous. Studies have shown that engaging in this behavior significantly increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. In fact, it’s estimated that a person’s eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds while texting. At highway speeds, this is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

To combat this deadly behavior, many states have implemented strict laws prohibiting texting and driving. Penalties for violations often include fines, points on the driver’s record, and, in some cases, even license suspension

Public awareness campaigns and technological advancements in vehicles, such as hands-free communication systems, also aim to reduce the temptation and accessibility of texting while driving. It is crucial for individuals to recognize the lethal consequences of texting and driving and to prioritize safety on the road by abstaining from this dangerous behavior.


Is it Illegal to Use Your Phone While Driving?

In Wisconsin, it is illegal to use a handheld mobile device while driving unless you are using a hands-free mode or a voice-activated function. This law is aimed at reducing distracted driving, which is a leading cause of accidents on the road.

Wisconsin has a primary enforcement policy regarding cell phone use while driving. This means that law enforcement officers can pull over a driver solely for using a handheld mobile device without needing another reason for the traffic stop.

Penalties for violating Wisconsin’s cell phone driving laws can include fines and demerit points on your driving record. For a first offense, the fine is typically around $20 to $40, but additional fees and court costs can increase the total amount. For subsequent offenses, fines can be significantly higher.

There are exceptions to this law. Drivers are allowed to use a mobile device if they are:

  • Reporting an emergency: If a driver needs to report an emergency situation, they are allowed to use their phone to call for assistance.
  • Using a hands-free device: Bluetooth headsets, car-mounted phone holders, and other hands-free options are permitted.
  • Operating an emergency vehicle: Drivers of emergency vehicles are exempt from these laws while performing official duties.

Using a handheld mobile device while driving is strictly illegal in Wisconsin, except in specific situations like emergencies or when using hands-free options. However, keep in mind that hands-free options are not always safe in themselves.

While hands-free systems in vehicles are designed to minimize visual and manual distractions, they can still pose significant cognitive distractions. These systems, which allow drivers to perform tasks like making calls or sending messages using voice commands, may seem convenient, but they can divert a driver’s mental focus from the road.

Using hands-free vehicle options can give a driver a false sense of safety and security when, in reality, their mind is focused on their conversation and not on the task of driving. 


Not All Driving Distractions are Electronic

Indeed, not all driving distractions stem from electronic devices. While smartphones and in-car technology contribute significantly to distracted driving, there are various non-electronic distractions that demand equal attention. These distractions can be equally hazardous, impairing a driver’s ability to react promptly and appropriately on the road.

One prevalent non-electronic distraction is eating or drinking while driving. Juggling a meal or beverage diverts a driver’s focus from the road, potentially leading to delayed reactions or erratic driving behavior. Similarly, applying makeup, grooming, or engaging in personal hygiene routines can take a driver’s eyes and concentration off the road, posing a considerable risk.

Conversations with passengers can also be a substantial source of distraction. Engaging in deep or emotional conversations can divert cognitive resources away from driving, leading to decreased situational awareness. This is particularly true when discussing complex or heated topics.

Adjusting controls within the vehicle, such as the radio, air conditioning, or GPS, can also be distracting. While these actions may seem routine, they require manual and visual attention that should ideally be directed toward the road.

Additionally, tending to children or pets in the vehicle is a significant non-electronic distraction. Attending to a child’s needs or managing a pet’s behavior can demand considerable attention, potentially leading to lapses in focus on the road.

Drivers should always practice mindfulness and prioritize safe driving habits. This includes planning ahead for meals, completing personal grooming routines before getting behind the wheel, and setting up vehicle controls before starting the journey. Additionally, drivers should be mindful of engaging in deep or emotionally charged conversations while driving and should always prioritize the safety of all occupants in the vehicle.

Ultimately, recognizing that distractions come in various forms is pivotal in promoting safe driving behavior. By acknowledging and minimizing both electronic and non-electronic distractions, drivers can contribute to a safer and more secure driving environment for all road users.


Consult with a Milwaukee Car Accident Attorney

Unfortunately, many drivers fail to prioritize safety and engage in distractions while driving, often leading to crashes and injuries. If you suffered injuries, the distracted driver’s insurance company should be liable for all of your losses. 

The law firm of Mingo & Yankala, S.C. Accident & Injury Lawyers can protect your rights and interests. Contact us today for a free consultation.