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8 tips for staying focused and alert behind the wheel

With as much of a problem as distracted driving has become, it is incredibly important for drivers to focus and stay alert behind the wheel. Many accidents happen when drivers let their minds wander or pay attention to something besides the road -- the radio, a cellphone, the GPS or a conversation with friends, for instance.

So, what can they do to really dial in and pay attention to what is happening around them? These eight tips can help:

  1. Drink enough water. People often avoid drinking water while on the road because they don't want to have to stop, but dehydration can make you feel fatigued and sluggish. Getting enough water keeps you awake.
  2. Turn off your phone notifications. You don't have to turn the device off entirely -- you may need it in an emergency -- but turning off the notifications means it doesn't suddenly pull your attention away.
  3. Chew a stick of gum. This can help you stay awake during night drives because it gives you a physical activity to do that does not inhibit your driving. It's far safer than eating behind the wheel.
  4. Keep the air conditioning on. Your body naturally tends to get comfortable and move toward sleep when you're stationary in a warm, comfortable place. Turning on the AC keeps that edge in the air so that you don't quite get comfortable enough to nod off.
  5. Drive by yourself. While it can be helpful to have someone talk to you when you're tired, passengers are more often a distraction than anything else. You wind up thinking about the conversation -- a mental distraction -- and looking at them while you talk. That's a physical distraction.
  6. Get enough sleep before driving. If you feel too tired to continue, do not be afraid to pull off of the road and take a nap. You need a well-rested mind to stay alert and focused while you drive. If that means you need to sleep for a few hours in a hotel parking lot, so be it.
  7. Don't multitask. You feel like a long, boring drive is a great time to get some other things done. Maybe you wanted to read an email or make a phone call for work or put on your makeup. Don't do it. Multitasking isn't a real thing; you just force your brain to split its attention between two tasks. This can lead to an accident.
  8. Don't drive when you're feeling too emotional. If you're elated, you may speed. If you're depressed or angry, you may stop thinking about driving and brood about whatever happened. You need to be calm and collected to drive safely.

Have you gotten into an accident with a distracted driver? If so, make sure you understand all of your legal rights.

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