Technology like mobile phones, smart watches and tablets have radically changed the way we live and work but there’s at least one downside to their amazing abilities. They make driving more dangerous because of their unparalleled ability to distract us.
As many as one in 10 fatal accidents have been blamed on driver distraction, while at least 16% of all serious crashes requiring hospital treatment are caused by distractions, according to the Monash University Accident Research Centre. And despite the obvious dangers that we all know about many of us allow ourselves to be distracted, with rather a lot of us ‘fessing up to using a mobile phone while driving.
One of the biggest distractions is adjusting the sound system. Back in the olden days car sound systems were simple affairs. You turned one knob for the volume, another to tune the radio and perhaps pushed a CD into a slot, and that was that. Today it’s a complicated procedure of working through menus, negotiating around the GPS, finding the streaming service or radio station and generally pushing quite a few buttons to get it to do what you want. Distracting? You bet! Little wonder that the manuals for these things tell you not to adjust it while driving. Yeah, we all follow that advice, don’t we?
Mobile phones are another source of distraction and one the Queensland Government, for one seems determined to do something about.
“It is shocking that two-thirds of Queenslanders admit to illegally using their phones while driving, and that is behaviour that contributes to crashes,” said Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister, Mark Bailey.
“We are investigating and assessing how technology can prevent people from using their mobile phones, tablets, smart watches or other devices while driving,” Mr. Bailey said. “The investigation of technological solutions is just one part of the government’s efforts in tackling this high-risk activity,” he said. “Transport and Main Roads is engaging stakeholders who can play a role in solving driver distraction. These include technology companies, automotive manufacturers, telecommunications companies, mobile device manufacturers and insurance providers. “Only by working together can we develop new and innovative solutions to make our roads safer.”
The Queensland Government is also looking at increasing the penalties for using a phone while driving and is running a social media campaign “Chin Up” to raise young drivers’ awareness of the dangers.
Mobile phones and sound systems are one thing, but the distractions don’t end there. There are also kids, food and drink, pets, insects in the car – the distractions just go on and on.
In fact, research by the Monash University Accident Research Centre has found that motorists are distracted an alarming 45% of the time. Professor Ann Williamson, director of the Transport and Road Safety Research Centre at UNSW, who took part in the research, She told ABC Radio Sydney’s Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck that she thinks screens in cars are a particular problem because they make us take our eyes off the road.
"I think we are providing more opportunities in vehicles these days for drivers to take their visual attention away from the road, and these are not necessarily doing us any favours," she said.
But she also believes reaching for objects while driving is also one of the most dangerous distractions and that more drivers need to be aware of it.
So, in other words, take note of the words of the late, great Jim Morrison of The Doors (now that’s showing my age!) and keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.