Distracted driving is one of the top ways that individuals end up in fatal car accidents. While you can’t stop another driver from looking at their phone or petting their dog while on the road, you should always be aware of those around you and know how to spot a driver who may be distracted.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2018, 2,841 lives were lost due to distracted driving. They define distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” While Minnesota has laws that prohibit distracted driving, it nevertheless persists.

Spotting a distracted driver

You have undoubtedly seen a distracted driver before, even if you didn’t know it. Maybe you thought they are just a poor driver, but maybe they were also watching Netflix. Here are some signs someone behind the wheel is not paying attention:

  • Swerving
  • Driving outside of their lane, either partially or in whole
  • Changing speeds rapidly
  • Going above or below the speed limit
  • Driving faster or slower than the flow of traffic
  • Disobeying traffic signals and signs (blowing through stop signs, disobeying proper right-of-way)
  • Stopping longer than necessary at traffic signals and signs
  • Hazardous merging or lane changes
  • Making last-minute decisions, like merging onto an exit ramp when it is unsafe
  • Improper use of headlights, like keeping high beams turned on when they should not or failure to turn on headlights at night

What to do when you see a distracted driver

When you notice a distracted driver, the first thing you should do is to protect yourself. Remember that when a driver is distracted, they not only aren’t paying attention to the road, but they are not paying attention to you. They likely don’t know if you have the right of way or are going to pass them. Stay as far away from the driver as you can to keep yourself away from any hazards that they cause.

If you can, get in front and away from the driver. As you pass them, be sure to give them lots of space in case they swerve and don’t stay near them for very long. If you see that they are putting themselves or others in harm’s way, like if they are going into the wrong lane, you may need to warn them with a honk.

If you can’t get away from the driver or you feel they are posing a real risk to others, don’t try to fix it yourself. Instead, call 911 and report the driver so that the police can handle it.