A. Eating and drinking
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A. Eating and drinking
B. Being ill
C. Looking in your mirrors
D. Using a mobile phone
Ideally we should spend our time 100% focused on the road while driving, but that never happens because our brains develop efficient little subroutines that take care of the mundaneness. We then occupy ourselves with deliberate distractions, like singing to the radio, or we find ways to copy as best we can with other distractions. Here’s a list of common distractions you will almost certainly encounter when driving.
A 2001 study found the following percentages of distractions amongst drivers. While cellphone does make an appearance on the list it was only cited in 1.5% of the cases – this will probably be much higher now.
Specific Distraction: % of Drivers
More recent statistics from a HealthDay Poll in November 2011 of 2800 American adults look like this:
If you can keep the child distracted, you can keep the child from distracting you, but therein lays the challenge. Children have notoriously short attention spans, and always seem to be needing to stop to go to the toilet.
It’s better to have someone else in the car with you to take on the role of keeping the kids occupied. Or encourage them to go to sleep. If they are OK reading or using an iPad or similar, let them do that. There is some evidence that if you tell a child not to read because it will make them travel sick that you then create this behaviour in them. Begin by telling them it's OK to read, then take it easy in the corners so you don't throw them about too much.
A pet in the front seat has the potential to be a distraction. You should never ride with your dog or cat in your lap. They should be either in a proper pet enclosure (like a cat cage) or you can let them ride in the boot if you have a station wagon. Bear in mind that if you have to stop quickly, Fluffy will become a heavy, claw-equipped projectile in your car which could damage you and seriously injure or kill it. Pet stores sell various devices for restraining your pet in your car. Just remember to let your pet out frequently if you’re on a long journey.
Listening to the radio itself doesn’t provide much of a distraction but changing the channel is because it’s likely you will have to take your eyes off the road. Newer cars come with buttons on the steering wheel that allow you to keep your hands on the wheel while adjusting the volume or channel, like in the Volkswagen Golf GTI steering wheel on the left. In an older car make sure you tune your presets before setting off then you don’t need to play around with trying to find the right frequency.
Satellite navigation systems can provide a similar distraction. If you want to enter a destination in, whether you have a built-in sat nav or an external third-party one either as a standalone unit or on your phone, get someone else in the car to do it, or pull over.
Adjusting the climate control is another distraction that may cause you to take your eyes off the road.
‘Road furniture’ is constantly vying for your attention. Road furniture (or street furniture in some countries) is the term that describes items such as fire hydrants, benches, road signs, traffic lights, streetlamps kerbstones and other items that form the road environment.
Road signs are instructional, however, some European and Scandinavian towns have dramatically reduced the number of signs and have found that people drive more carefully and the accident rate drops. By reducing the signs, people pay more attention to the road and drive to the conditions.
The other big distraction are advertising hoardings and billboards, from simple signs scrawled advertising garage sales through to large billboards for major brands. The whole purpose of these signs is to distract you.
Governments are interested in reducing sign clutter and there are local bylaws that prevent some kinds of signs. The UK government has a PDF about reducing sign clutter that you can find here (if you’re interested).
Drive-through food – it can be dangerous. It’s hot, you put it in your lap, and are we really designed to handle food and drive at the same time? Major culprits for causing accidents through distraction are hot fillings scalding the driver, or spilling liquids.
If you know you will want to eat on the journey pack food and drink that is convenient to eat with one hand – i.e. food that doesn’t need two hands to open or consume. Or, stop on the side of the road and take a break while eating as it’s more refreshing for your body.
Of course, it’s illegal in New Zealand to use a hand-held phone to make a call. It’s also illegal to send or read a text message while driving. This doesn’t stop the phone from being a distraction, though. Even if you are using a hands-free kit, talking on the phone makes you around 1.3 times more likely to crash. Texting makes you 23 times more likely to crash and texting while driving kills 11 teens per day in the USA.
Being distracted is inevitable when driving. Many of these distractions won’t result in any problems, but you do put yourself at increased risk of having a collision, or at least a close call.