The dangers of distracted driving

Whether you’re browsing online, playing games, or sending a quick text, anything that takes your eyes off the road when you’re driving puts you and other road users 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 receives significant media attention, 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 and the penalties were doubled in 2017, research from 2018 showed that one in five drivers still use their mobile phone while driving.

That’s more than 7 million people using distracting hand-held devices while driving.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is more than just using a mobile phone while driving. Anything that takes your focus away from your driving is a distraction. The US government breaks down these forms of distraction into three different categories.


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.

Taking your hands off of the steering wheel for any reason is a manual distraction. Eating in the car or drinking a coffee are examples of this.

Manual distractions are probably the most common type of distraction, as they can be as simple as changing a radio station or adjusting the air-conditioning.

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.

What makes mobile phone use so dangerous is that it is an example of all three categories at once. You manually operate your phone while looking at the screen and concentrate on the phone rather than the road ahead.
man using phone while driving the car

The move by most car manufacturers towards touchscreen infotainments systems is a real issue for distracted driving, as touchscreens require significantly more attention from the user to use. This is 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 and input a command. Because the car is moving and the button positions are not consistent, it requires considerable cognitive effort compared to pushing physical buttons.

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 happened.

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.

This article was originally published in August 2016, and was most recently updated in January 2019.

Chatting with your passengers is an example of distracted driving

For the best independent and impartial car buying advice on the internet, always check with The Car Expert:

  • Subscribe to our newsletter for weekly tips and the latest offers from car manufacturers
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see our latest articles as soon as we publish them
  • Bookmark our site so you can check back regularly
Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

More expert advice

Adaptive cruise control – what is it and how does it work?

More and more cars now come with adaptive cruise control either as standard or as an optional extra. But what does it do and is it for you?

Could you be driving an electric car for less money?

New research from Tusker shows that more people are looking to make the switch to an EV for their next car. (sponsored)

Top tips to cut your driving bills

Saving money by driving less during the pandemic? Carry on with that once you start spending more time behind the wheel again.


  1. Hi any thoughts about momentary power losses described by the manufacturers uk importer as a characteristic of the engine and not a fault. Surely any power loss wether split second or longer with a fixed pattern or sporadic would lead to distraction from driving. Any thoughts ?

  2. 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.

  3. 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 ?

  4. 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.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below.