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Top 10 Tips to Stop Distracted Driving

Here's how to stay focused behind the wheel and prevent devastating injury or fatalities.

By Emma Harrington
Shepherd Center Director of Injury Prevention and Education

Distracted driving has increasingly become a cause of motor vehicle crashes. The prevalence of smart phones and a culture of constant social connection has created a deadly combination with motor vehicles.

One out of 10 drivers on the road is using their phone for something – making them four times more likely to crash. Distracted driving includes texting and answering emails, talking on the phone, eating, applying makeup and even, changing the music on a portable electronic device.

At Shepherd Center, we have created a list of tips to help you stay focused behind the wheel and a poster campaign you can use to raise awareness about distracted driving in your school, hospital or other community organization.


1. Out of sight, out of mind:  Put the phone on vibrate or silent and put it where you can’t see it while driving. This will reduce your urge to answer calls or read texts and emails. Cover it with your purse; put it in the glove compartment – whatever you have to do. Just get it out of sight!

2. What’s the opposite of multi-tasking? It’s PAYING ATTENTION! Start thinking of the car as a place to accomplish one simple thing – driving. You may be surprised to find that driving becomes much less stressful when you give the task at hand your full attention.

3. Plan ahead:  Set your music to play, make phone calls and send texts before you start the car. If you need to use GPS, use a voice command version and set it up in advance. If you get lost, pull over to a safe location and get your bearings. Looking at a map application while you’re driving is just as bad, if not worse, than texting!

4. Buckle up! This should go without saying, but always, always, always wear your seatbelt. Most accidents happen very close to home and there’s no safe distance to ride in the car without a seatbelt.

5. Block it out:  If you just can’t resist the call of the smart phone, consider call-blocking technology. There are a number of free applications you can use to disarm your text and phone functions while you’re in the car. You’ll have to discipline yourself to use them, but they may help you as you try to develop better habits.

6. Change expectations:  Make it clear to friends and family that you are not willing to drive distracted, which means they should not expect to talk to you while you’re driving. Change your outgoing voicemail message to say “I’m either away from the phone or I’m driving. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m safely able to do so.”

7. Work it out:  If you must drive a lot for work, add in time to your schedule to make and receive calls at your last location or in the parking lot before you start driving. Stop thinking of the car as an extension of the office, unless it’s in park. It may be more challenging to get work done, but not nearly as challenging as a car accident would be. Enjoy having some time in the car to yourself.

8. Take advantage:  Allow passengers to make calls or send texts for you. Simple!

9. Pay it forward:  Don’t expect others to respond to texts, emails or calls while they’re driving. If you realize that someone you’ve called is driving, insist on ending the conversation until they’re no longer behind the wheel.

10. Don’t give up! As with any bad habit, you may find it difficult to change your mobile device behavior in the car. If you find yourself backsliding, reread these tips and hit the mental reset button. Think of all the reasons you have to arrive safely. Help change the culture of distracted driving so that focused, attentive driving becomes the norm.

More information about Shepherd Center's Injury Prevention Program is available here.

EMMA HARRINGTON is the director of injury prevention and education services at Shepherd Center. Previously, Emma started the injury prevention program at Grady Memorial Hospital in the Trauma Department. She holds a master of education degree in international education policy from Harvard University. Originally from Boston, Emma is a licensed social studies teacher.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.