Better things to do - Everything you need to know about driver distraction

“Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers.” Those are the words of the most up to date driver awareness advertising campaign beaming its way into our living rooms. As factually correct as this statement may be, it can be argued that statements like this, along with shocking images of crashes etc, may not be enough to equip drivers with the tools they need to avoid in-car distraction. This week I explore the subject of driver distraction with an aim towards deepening the understanding of the subject as oppose to simply warning against drivers becoming distracted.

Impact of distracted drivers

There are few who will dispute that along with alcohol, speeding and driver fatigue, driver distraction is amongst the most prominent causes of road accidents and road fatalities. Hundreds die every year as a result of split second distractions which unfortunately demand the ultimate price. It would appear that the core component of the problem is the importance of split seconds decisions and as the television adverts show us, missing a split second change in road circumstances can prove fatal.

Biggest distractions (in no particular order)

  • Mobile phones
  • Other occupants
  • Other gadgets (GPS and other peripherals)
  • Electric razor/applying makeup
  • Adjusting vehicle and/or radio setting
  • Reaching for items within the vehicle
  • Unwrapping and opening food
  • External distractions (billboards and pedestrians)

Understanding distractions

Coffee cupWhilst it is admirable to completely avoid all distractions, it is important to note that not all distractions are equal. On reading a number of articles on the matter I found that there are such a things as low intensity (coffee drinking and changing the radio station) and high intensity (writing text messages and reaching around to the back seat) distractions. One article even goes on to point out that some drivers have the capacity to coordinate low intensity distractions around extended traffic stoppages and other normally occuring stoppages. On continued reading it would seem that we really have to realistically evaluate our own capacity to do any given activity whilst in control of a vehicle. While outlawing high distraction activities may send the right message, common sense needs to be the first reference point as it may prove difficult to pass legislation banning children from arguing in a moving vehicle.

Planning for distractions

Like with most areas of life, planning will come in very handy in mitigating the risks. The planning for inevitable distractions is no different to any other form of planning and takes emotional effort and time. Some simple suggestions would be:

  • Having plans to deal with screaming children in a way that doesn’t allow their anxiousness to impact upon your driving (a lot of parents pull over and refuse to drive until the argument stops).
  • Having specific plans for what to do when the phones rings, as sometimes not answering the phone can take as much effort (in terms of restraint) as actually answering (scheduling phone breaks and ensure your voicemail is set up with appropriate greetings can help).
  • Having specific plans to deal with navigation nightmares. This one is particularly important especially when you consider how emotionally draining sat nav’s can be when you’re already under pressure.

    Whilst the above list is by no means comprehensive, it serves as a reminder of how much planning and forethought should be undertaken in order to deal with the wide array of demands on one’s attention as we can all appreciate; in a crisis we are only as good as our back up plan.

*Sources available on request

What is the most distracting thing for you?

Have you ever had a an accident as a result of an in car distraction?

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