What counts as “distraction,” anyways?

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Many states and localities have laws specifically prohibiting activities such as using a cell phone or sending a text message while driving. In addition, several states have laws that hold drivers accountable for distractions that could contribute to an accident.” –Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor with FindLaw.com

As efforts start ramping up across the country to combat texting and cell phone use while driving motor vehicles, another question is popping up – what constitutes a “distraction” while behind the wheel, anyways?

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I mean, heck, I’m always sipping on coffee or some sort of heavily caffeinated beverage while driving me old ugly minivan – it’s the only way for me to survive occasional wee-hour trips I’ve gotta make up to Baltimore Washington International airport. So does drinking coffee count as a “distraction”? And if we start cracking down more generally on “distracted driving,” is this the kind of thing that results in a traffic ticket?

It’s an important question to ask because yet another study shows that drivers readily admit to engaging in all kinds of “distractive activity” behind the wheel – some that I would consider innocuous (such as drinking coffee) while others are downright scary (surfing the Internet while DRIVING? Are you KIDDING me?)

According to a new national survey by FindLaw.com, nine out of ten drivers say they have engaged in what the pollsters considered “distracting and potentially dangerous activities” while driving. The most common of these “activities” are:

Drinking coffee or other beverages - 81%

Eating - 76%

Talking on a cell phone - 66%

Sending or receiving text messages - 29%

Applying makeup - 11% (21% of women drivers)

Sending or receiving email - 8%

Reading a book or newspaper - 7%

Surfing the Internet - 5%

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The FindLaw.com survey – conducted using a demographically balanced telephone survey of 1,000 American adults, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3% – also found certain distracting activities are particularly prevalent among younger drivers. More than half of drivers between the ages of 18 and 34 say they have sent or received a text message while driving, while one out of ten admitted to having sent or received emails or surfed the Internet while behind the wheel.

And yet … drinking coffee behind the wheel counts as “distractive activity”? I mean, sure, if you drop it or try to mix in cream and sugar while blasting down the asphalt at 70 miles per hour, I can see that as a major distraction. But, heck, if we’re going to ban drinking beverages behind the wheel, is nose picking not far behind? (Not, to paraphrase the great Jerry Seinfeld, that there’s anything wrong with that!)

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