Distracted drivers are everywhere on the roadways. Glance to the right or left and you are bound to see someone fiddling with their cell phone or stuffing food in their mouth. Or what would you see if you were to look in the mirror?

Hands-free technology and dashboard applications were supposed to help us keep our eyes on the road. But they have increased the visual, manual and cognitive distractions that steal our attention from driving. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that distracted driving killed 3,166 people.

Staying focused behind the wheel

It takes about 5 seconds to send or read a text message. At highway speed, that’s more than enough time to travel the length of a football field. It is time to pay attention, now more than ever.

Here are five tips that every driver would be wise to follow:

  • Holster that phone. Turn off your device before you even get in the car. You can’t be tempted to accept a call or return a text if you never get the call or text.
  • Eat at home. Unwrapping sandwiches, squeezing condiments or digging for chips can take your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and brain off the task of driving. If you’re starving, find a safe place to pull over.
  • Let it be. Never mind that pop can rolling around the floor. Or the quarter that fell out of your pocket. Or the compact discs on the back seat. Reaching for things while driving is a recipe for a crash.
  • Quit sprucing. Put that eyeliner back in your compact. Knot your tie in the parking lot. Brush your hair at the office. Grooming and driving is dangerous and preventable.
  • Plan ahead. Plan your route and program your navigation system before putting your vehicle in drive. Or recruit your passengers to scope out and narrate directions.

Meanwhile, do not be afraid to talk to your boss about waiting to answer calls until you’re safely in the office. Responding to work calls and texts in your car makes you a risky driver, not a focused employee. It is hard to get to a job with your car in the shop.

Drive defensively

Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, ban all hand-held cellphone use while driving. Most others ban all texting. But Missouri lags behind. Despite the recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board, Missouri still has no ban on hand-held devices. Only drivers under 21 are banned from texting.

Distracted driving affects everyone on the road. The risks are obvious. So are the solutions. Treating your vehicle like the complicated machine it is may save your life. Or someone else’s.