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Are you a distracted driver?

by Hugh Wilson | 11 Jul 2016

Four in ten young drivers admit to having used a mobile phone while driving and 23% have had an accident or near miss in the last 12 months, a new study reveals.

The research, for Goodyear Tyres, also found that 18% of the 17-25-year-old motorists had driven through a red light due to being distracted at the wheel.

The biggest distraction, according to the study, was food and drink, followed by looking at something outside the car, using a mobile phone and changing radio stations or a music CD.

Incredibly, 13% had become distracted because they were applying make-up, and 12% had not been fully focusing on the road ahead because they were doing their hair!

With summer here, further distractions include blaring music, insects in the car, and seeing friends on the street.

Carly Brookfield, CEO of The Driving Instructors Association, commented: “Teaching new drivers how important it is to keep concentration whilst behind the wheel is one of the most important things our instructors do.”

Age-old problem

But distracted driving isn’t just an issue for young people. The most comprehensive study of driving habits, conducted in the US, found that 78% of crashes and 65% of near crashes had distraction as a contributing factor, regardless of driver age.

Another study, which filmed drivers at the wheel, found that all drivers practiced at least one distracting activity.

Worryingly, says the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSpa), “distracted drivers underestimate the effects that distraction has on them, and do not perceive their reduced awareness or their ability to spot hazards.”

In fact, distracted drivers have difficulty controlling their speed and their distance from the vehicle in front.

Ditch the distractions


Starkly put, the more distractions you are exposed to while driving, the more likely you are to crash, or at least be pulled over by the police.

The law recognises the dangers of distracted driving. It is illegal to use a mobile phone at the wheel in the UK, and this includes instances when you’ve stopped the car but the motor is still running.

But it’s not just mobile phones. The law also punishes more general instances of distracted driving.

“Distracted drivers could be charged with a range of offences, Dangerous Driving, Careless and Inconsiderate Driving, Failure to Be In Proper Control of the Vehicle, or Driving Without Due Care and Attention depending on how badly the distraction affected their driving,” says RoSpa.

So with both the law and the law of commons sense to worry about, it’s a good idea to try and minimise the effects distractions have on your driving. Here’s how:

  • Keep your phone in a bag, your pocket or the glove compartment. Even if you don’t pick it up, incoming calls and message notifications can be distracting.
  • If you need to do something obviously distracting – like consulting a map or eating a sandwich – find a safe place to pull over.
  • Find the CD or radio station you want, and set the SatNav before you set off. Keep music volume to sensible levels. Loud sounds can slow reaction times and can stop you hearing important external information, like emergency service sirens.
  • Navigation is one of the key distractions for drivers. Some of this – like reading road signs – is unavoidable, but make finding your way as easy as possible by planning your route in advance.
  • Make sure children have the food, drink and activities they need to keep them happy and occupied during longer journeys. Take plenty of breaks.
  • Make sure you’re well rested before a long journey, and if you get tired during the trip take a break. Tired minds are more likely to wander.
  • Make sure your car is roadworthy, and if in doubt book it into an Approved Garages or AutoCare member for a quick health check. Worrying about the state of your car stops you focusing on the road ahead.
  • Finally, be aware of the things that distract you and take your own steps to minimise their impact. While distractions can’t be eliminated completely, they can be significantly reduced.

To avoid one possible source of distraction, get your car ready for long summer trips with our handy guide

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