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Think about the last time you were in your car. Did you visit the drive-thru and eat your breakfast behind the wheel? When you heard your phone ring, did you feel tempted to pick it up? How many times did you reach over to change the radio station or adjust the air conditioning?

Now more than ever, multitasking makes its way into everything we do — even driving. But multitasking when you’re in your vehicle (otherwise known as distracted driving) can take you from safe trip to fender bender in the blink of an eye. Let’s take a look at some basic tools that can help you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

Built-in Bluetooth

Most new vehicles come standard with Bluetooth technology that allows you to connect your cell phone or other mobile device and operate it using your vehicle’s control panel (or buttons on your steering wheel, which we’ll get into later). Once your phone is connected with your vehicle, you can do things like make calls, play music, or use a GPS on your phone — all without actually touching or looking at it.

Safety tip: Making a hands-free phone call keeps your eyes on the road, but it still takes your mind off the road — so it’s a distraction that should be avoided whenever possible. If you need to make a call, your safest bet is likely to pull off to the side of the road (when it’s safe to do so) or wait until you’re parked.

Voice commands and voice-to-text software

In addition to Bluetooth technology, many newer vehicles also come equipped with systems that allow you to control different settings using your voice. After you press the button to activate the voice command system, you can verbally tell your vehicle to adjust its internal temperature, change the radio station, activate the built-in GPS, and more.

Voice-to-text and text-to-speech software takes this a step further and allows you to send and receive text messages from your cell phone while you drive. When you receive a text, the system will read the message out loud and allow you to reply verbally.  

Steering wheel controls

Have you ever taken the time to get to know what each of the buttons and dials on your steering wheel is for? Many steering wheels now have controls for your Bluetooth devices (like your phone or iPod), your entertainment system, climate control, cruise control, your vehicle’s voice command system, and more. These buttons are designed to make it easier (and safer) to quickly change the radio station or turn up the AC without looking down at your vehicle’s stereo system or climate control panel. To learn what each of the controls is for, take a look at your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Phone-blocking apps

Handling your phone while you’re in the driver’s seat can land you with a hefty distracted driving fine — and maybe even a careless driving charge. Some apps (like DriveSafe Mode and LifeSaver, for example) are designed to keep your eyes on the road and your hands off your phone while you’re driving. If you know you’re easily tempted to sneak a peek at your phone when you hear it jingle — or even if you just feel like being disconnected during your morning commute — consider installing an app to block calls, texts, and other notifications while your car is in motion. Better yet, put your phone on silent and store it out of reach while you’re driving.

Safety tip: If you need to use your phone for navigation, make sure it’s securely docked on your dashboard where you can see it without holding onto it or looking down.

Taking advantage of hands-free mechanisms can prevent distracted driving (and collisions) by keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes focused on the road. But keep in mind that any time you start thinking about something else, like using your steering wheel controls to find your favourite song on the stereo or adjust your air conditioning until it’s just right, you’re taking your mind off the road. Whenever possible, try to adjust your AC, set up your GPS, and pick your tunes before you hit the gas.

Thinking of upgrading to a newer vehicle with more “hands-free” features? If you want some help comparing the cost of insurance for your top picks, reach out to your licensed insurance broker today.