It is absolutely vital that drivers stay alert for the entire time they are behind the wheel. This means constantly scanning the road environment and making decisions about the task of driving. Nowadays, however, as our dependency on technology increases, so too does the temptation to partake in distracting activities.
It’s no secret that driver distraction contributes significantly to serious road crashes. In fact, it is estimated that distraction played a role in 32% of all road crash deaths and serious injuries in Western Australia between 2005 and 2007 (Office of Road Safety).
Driver distraction falls into three categories, with some behaviors being a combination of all three:
- Visual – taking your eyes off the road (e.g., looking at a mobile phone to read a text message);
- Physical – taking your hands off the steering wheel (e.g., to adjust stereo controls/change CD); and
- Cognitive – taking your attention away from the driving task (e.g., talking to passengers).
Every distraction leads to delays in driver reactions, increases the likelihood of missing potential hazards and compromises safety (Office of Road Safety).
A number of studies have demonstrated that using a mobile phone while driving can:
- Affect your ability to maintain an appropriate speed.
- Result in longer reaction times to detect and respond to unexpected events.
- Reduce your functional visual field of view, which in turn, has been shown to be associated with an increase in crash involvement.
- Increase your mental workload, resulting in higher levels of stress.
- Reduce your awareness of what is happening around you in time and space.
The results of these studies show that the use of a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash by up to four times.
And there is evidence to suggest that young novice drivers and older drivers (over 55 years old) are more vulnerable to the effects of distraction than other drivers (Regan, 2005). These groups should, therefore, be especially targeted for education activities related to driver distraction.
Here are some tips to help you change your behavior to avoid being a distracted driver:
- Turn off your mobile phone when driving (even if it is a hands-free mobile phone).
- Adjust all vehicle controls (including the radio/CD player) before setting off.
- Take a break rather than eat, drink or smoke while driving.
- Don’t know the route? Check a map before starting the journey to know what lies ahead or have your GPS system set before driving.
- Ask passengers to be quiet if you are having difficulty concentrating while driving.
- Ensure pets are properly restrained in the vehicle (e.g. using a secured carrier box or pet seat belt system).
- Make sure your vehicle’s windscreens and mirrors are clean and unobstructed.