Common Driver Distractions Leading to Car Accidents

Distracted driving is a prime cause of car accidents nationally. The Centers for Disease Control report that 424,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2019. Victims include passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians.

Like other states, Virginia has tried to reduce distracted driving by criminalizing the use of a cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. However, a cell phone is only one source of distraction. Any number of things can force a motorist to take their eyes off the road and cause a wreck. Below, our Winchester car accident attorney identifies some surprising sources of distraction.


Pets can easily contribute to distracted driving accidents, especially if a motorist allows the animal to roam around freely in the vehicle. One study found that allowing a dog to roam around the vehicle more than doubled the number of unsafe driving behaviors. Further, distractions involving a dog were twice as long as other distractions.

Another risk is that the animal might jump unannounced into the front seek, blocking your vision and forcing one or both hands off the wheel. The risk of a crash would go way up in that situation.

The correct way to transport pets is in a carrier of appropriate size. That way, the animal is restrained and you don’t have to worry about him until you reach your destination. Some dogs are too large for carriers, however, which means the owner should use a special dog seatbelt as a restraint.


Parents are probably not surprised to hear that children are a main source of distraction. Young children can scream, cry, ask endless questions, and even throw things at the back of a driver’s head.

Would you be surprised to hear that children are perhaps the worst distraction out on the road? According to Australian researchers, children in the backseat of a vehicle are 12 times more distracting than talking on a cell phone. In a typical 16-minute car ride, the average parent would look in the backseat for more than 3 minutes! That is almost 20% of the time.

Having multiple children in the vehicle can increase distraction. Parents might need to keep siblings from fighting, pulling each other’s hair, or fighting over food or games. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to avoid transporting your children in a vehicle, so this is one source of distraction parents will need to learn to work around.

Loud Music

Some controversy exists over whether loud music is also a source of distraction. Some studies have found that motorists are more likely to make driving errors when listening to music of their choice. For example, the Center for Injury Research & Prevention cites a study out of Israel which found that new drivers made more mistakes and were more prone to distraction when listening to their favorite music compared to no music or calming tunes.

Some researchers speculate that the brain struggles to divide attention between a loud sound (like music) and visual cues happening outside the windshield (like a person crossing a street). As a result, a driver’s reflexes might be delayed.

Dashboard Dials

Distracted driving accidents can occur even when you look away for only a split second. In that fraction of time, someone might cross in front of your car, or another driver could pull out in front of you. Looking down to adjust the heat in winter or the air conditioning in summer is just enough distraction to cause a motorist to crash.

Unfortunately, dashboards are becoming more complicated. If you buy or rent a new car, then you might struggle to figure out where the dials and buttons are located.

Food & Drink

Increasingly, drivers are multitasking behind the wheel, and many are eating a burger or sandwich as they drive to their next destination. What’s risky about eating a hamburger?

Actually, food can lead to accidents. Imagine if ketchup squirts out of the burger onto your shirt. The natural reaction is to look down, and maybe even take your hands off the wheel to reach for a napkin. The same thing happens when people spill soup on themselves.

Hot beverages pose another problem. Hot coffee can cause first or even second-degree burns when a motorist spills it in their lap. Now they are struggling with intense pain and trying to keep their eyes on the road.

Hands Free Cell Phones

Some people wrongly assume that cell phones cause distraction because they take your eyes off the road or a hand off the wheel. Certainly, distractions like that increase the risk of a crash. But visual and manual distractions are not the only types of impairment to watch out for.

Even dash-mounted, hands-free devices distract drivers. There are multiple sources of distraction. For example, cognitive distraction is a real problem. How often have you found yourself driving only to “zone out” because you are thinking about work or what meal to cook when you get home? That is a type of cognitive distraction.

Having a conversation with someone taxes your attention. As you focus on the conversation, you might not register what you are “seeing” happen in front of you while the car is in motion. Unsurprisingly, many people end up colliding with a pedestrian or other motorist, even though they are looking out the windshield.

One widely cited study found that a motorist remains cognitively distracted for almost half a minute after finishing a text message. That is a long time that your vehicle is in motion before your attention returns fully on the task at hand: driving. Having a conversation with a hands-free phone is still a big risk.

Were You Injured by a Distracted Driver?

Correll Law Firm opened its doors to represent accident victims hurt in Winchester car accidents. Our lawyer knows how to negotiate settlements for injured accident victims and maximize their take-home compensation. Call our firm if you need help. Our lawyer can jump in and identify whether you can sue a motorist for distracted driving.