As the debate in California and across the nation about cell phone use in vehicles continues, it is a good idea to take a fresh look at the concept of distracted driving. Cell phones certainly forced the surge of conversation about distracted driving, but they are far from the only culprits.
The California Office of Traffic Safety explains that the newest distracted driving law in California still centers around cell phones but does also include some other consumer electronic devices. People are allowed to tap once or make a single swiping motion on their screens while driving but nothing more during a given interaction with the device. Every other interaction must be completely hands-free.
Distractions involving pets, personal hygiene, radios or more may not be part of the distracted driving law but may still lead to a citation if an officer deems them to interfere with the driver's ability to navigate a vehicle safely. This can happen per a general speed law that connect driver speed to safety or reckless operation.
The AAA Exchange studied infotainment systems built into 40 different 2017 and 2018 model vehicles and found that 29 of them required a high or very high level of cognitive demand from a driver. The also took drivers' eyes away from the road. Cognitive and visual distractions are two of the three forms of distracted driving. The third is a manual distraction. In the study, another 11 systems required a moderate level of demand. AAA suggests that only a low level of demand would be deemed safe for people while actively operating vehicles.