What Are the Four Types of Distraction in Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is a leading cause of vehicle accidents in Tennessee, and these incidents often lead to significant property damage and major injuries. Drivers operate distracted in a wide variety of ways, and it is important to break down the different types of distracted driving. In general, there are four main types of distracted driving, though these four categories can be broken down into different activities in each category. The CDC lists three of the following four types: visual distraction, manual distraction, and cognitive distraction. However, we also want to discuss auditory distraction.

1. Visual Distraction

Visual distraction is exactly what it sounds like – drivers becoming distracted because they take their eyes off of the roadway. This happens much more often than people realize, even to individuals who consider themselves good drivers. This can include looking at a phone screen, looking in the mirror, looking at the radio or GPS screen, glancing at kids or pets in other seats, and more.

For the most part, drivers need to keep their eyes focused on the roadway in front of them with occasional glances into the mirrors or blind spots.

2. Manual Distraction

Manual distraction includes any action that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel. In the best-case driving scenario, drivers should have two hands on the wheel at all times. However, there are times when drivers take one or both hands off of the wheel. This can include reaching for objects in other seats or in the rear of the vehicle, texting on the phone, reaching for stereo knobs or GPS devices, handling food or drinks, and more.

When a person takes their hands off of the wheel, this significantly reduces the amount of time that a driver will have to react to any adverse situation or hazard that crops up around them.

3. Auditory Distraction

Auditory distractions include any sound that can impact a driver’s ability to focus on the roadway. Auditory distractions can include others talking in the vehicle, notification noises coming from a cell phone or mobile device, or music on the radio. Often, individuals think that if they play the radio loud enough, this will help them focus on the roadway or stay awake. That is not necessarily true.

When a person experiences auditory distractions, this can take their focus away from the task of actually operating the vehicle. Additionally, auditory distractions can keep individuals from hearing important sounds, including emergency vehicles, horns honking, and other possible hazards.

4. Cognitive Distraction

Cognitive distractions include anything that takes a person’s mind off of driving. Cognitive distractions can occur in conjunction with the other types of distractions listed on this page, but they can also happen on their own. As individuals, we all have things on our minds. Whether it has to do with our job, relationships, money, or anything else, our thoughts can wander. However, when this happens, it can also take the focus away from the roadway.

Distracted Driving Data

The CDC states that approximately one out of every five fatal car accidents during a recent reporting year involved distracted driving. In Tennessee, the Department of Transportation reported that there were more than 22,000 total distracted driving crashes in 2022.