Whether you’re browsing the internet, playing Pokémon Go, or sending a quick text to let someone know you’re on your way, anything that takes your eyes off the road when you’re behind the wheel is putting you and other drivers at risk.

In fact, using a handheld device while driving can be even more distracting than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as it makes you twice as likely to take your eyes off of the road.

While drink-driving has received significant media attention over the past few decades, the dangers of distracted driving are seemingly less well known. Even though the Road Safety Act of 2006 made using a mobile device while driving illegal, according to a 2014 government study 1.6 percent of drivers in England and Scotland still use mobile phones while driving. That is more than 500,000 people using distracting handheld devices while behind the wheel.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is more than just driving while using a mobile phone. Anything that takes your focus away from your driving is a distraction, and they can be broken down into three different categories.

Visual

A visual distraction is anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road. Looking at your satnav is an example, as you have to shift your focus away from where you’re going to look at the screen. Car manufacturers have been working to position satnavs and information screens as high on the dashboard as possible to minimise the distance your eyes have to travel.

Manual

Taking your hands off of the steering wheel for any reason is a manual distraction. Eating in the car or drinking a coffee is an example of this. Manual distractions are probably the most common type of distraction, as it can be as simple as changing a radio station or adjusting the air-conditioning.

Cognitive

The least obvious of the three, a cognitive distraction, is when you are thinking about something other than driving. This can be anything from daydreaming to having a conversation with your passengers, and it’s something that almost every driver would have to admit they have done on many occasions.

While anything from eating a burger to putting on makeup can be a form of distracted driving, what makes mobile phone use so dangerous is that it is an example of all three categories at once.

The move by most car manufacturers towards large touchscreen infotainments systems is a real issue for distracted driving, as touchscreens require significantly more attention from the user to use – largely because the buttons are not in one fixed place and there is no real haptic feedback to know if you have successfully pressed the right button. You need to look carefully to see where you need to be touching the screen and then take your hand off the wheel for quite some time to touch the screen. Because the car is moving and the button positions are not consistent, it requires considerable cognitive effort compared to pushing physical buttons.

man using phone while driving the car

Obviously not every distraction is going to result in a fiery car crash, but it’s also impossible to argue with the fact that you can’t be prioritising your attention on your driving if you are attending to something else at the same time. If something happens in front of you while your focus is elsewhere, at best it will give you less time to react once you return your focus to your driving. At worst, an accident can happen in a flash and you will never know what hit you (or what you hit).

The stats

You don’t have to take it for granted that distracted driving is dangerous. Just look at the statistics. According to data from 2013, mobile phone use was a factor in 22% of all fatal road traffic accidents.

Sending or receiving a text message or looking at a roadside object increases your chance of being in an accident by 3.9 times. Reaching for a cell phone increases your risk factor by 7.1, and dialling a phone increases it by 8.3 times.

Drive safe, not distracted

Remember that if your hands off the wheel and you are looking away from the road, you may not be able to react fast enough to avoid a collision. Keep yourself and others safe by keeping your hands, mind, and eyes focused on driving.

Chatting with your passengers is an example of distracted driving

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. An important area of major distraction is children in booster seats, working them loose in the back. This leads to the driver having to look back and sometimes even attempt to hold the child to stop them tipping and rocking. Surveys have shown that most child booster seats are not secured by the ISO-FIX systems as they are just too hard and fiddly to secure. This means that children are at risk and the driver is far more prone to an accident because of the distraction of the un-tethered child.

  2. In an attempt to make the roads safer in the UK the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency are planning to introduce SatNav directions as part of the U.K. Driving Test. I’m not sure if this will improve safety or encourage distraction whilst driving. Thoughts on this ?

  3. To be honest, the use of Sat Nav in the car is an everyday occurrence these days. So, the inclusion of that into a driving test is a step in the right direction to educate the learner driver on some of the distractions of said use of Sat nav before they get behind the wheel of their own cars after passing the driving test. Surely, it can’t be a bad way to go to include that and get rid of the reverse around a corner for example. We have to educate kids before they start doing it on their own. A great article as per usual from this quality site and would hopefully be looking at doing a guest post maybe on some driving related topics. we shall see. Hopefully, the new legislation to be announced by the government of raising the punishment on using mobile phones whilst driving will help a little. Albeit, still too lacking by potentially doubling the points awarded and raising the fine a couple of hundred quid. Cognitive distractions are not always taken into account when we see these types of blog posts. That is a real plus to point out not all distractive driving are actually things you are doing, but just a simple conversation is still a distraction. Well done on a nice post.

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