With the hands-free law going into effect Aug. 1, Mayo Clinic Health System and Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service are reminding the public of the importance of staying focused behind the wheel.

“‘Distracted driving’ may include putting on makeup, looking down to tune the radio, using a navigation system or even eating a meal while driving,” says Gail Norris, regional trauma program manager for Mayo Clinic Health System’s southwest Minnesota region. “But cellphone use and texting are the biggest issue. When you text while driving, you are combining all three types of distraction: visual, manual and cognitive.”

Visual distraction occurs when drivers take their eyes off the road to text, which on average lasts for five seconds. (At 55 mph, that’s the length of a football field in distance traveled.) Manual distraction occurs when the hands are taken off the wheel.

Cognitive distraction occurs when a driver’s mind is taken off of the act of driving, and Mayo Clinic researchers found texting does more than just create a lapse in attention; it actually changes a person’s brain waves. The brain waves of 129 patients were monitored over a period of 16 months through electroencephalograms combined with video footage, and a unique “texting rhythm” was found in approximately 1 in 5 patients who were using their smartphones to text message while having their brain waves monitored.

“There is simply no way to drive safely while texting,” says Norris. “The safety of drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other people on the road is much more important than responding to a text.”

With the hands-free law going into effect Aug. 1, Norris and other Mayo Clinic experts offer these tips to keep you focused on driving:

  • Make it a group effort. Encourage your friends and family to designate their cars a “no-phone zone” when driving.
  • Put your phone somewhere you can’t reach it. Put your phone in the back seat or trunk before driving.
  • Use “airplane mode.” In the settings on your cell phone, set your phone on airplane mode, which temporarily disables Wi-Fi and data, meaning you won’t be distracted by notifications from incoming calls, texts or app alerts.
  • Use safety settings on your cell phone. Many phones have a setting that allows for an auto-reply to be sent to an incoming text message when a vehicle is in motion. Use the setting to automatically reply that you’re driving and that you’ll respond when you are parked.

Visit mayoclinichealthsystem.org for more information.