Distractions

The only task you should be concentrating on when driving is the act of driving itself

Driver distractions are a major contributory factor in road traffic collisions. Driving is a complex task that requires a driver’s full concentration. However, it is all too easy for a driver to be distracted from the task of driving itself, particularly on longer journeys, and that is when the risk of being involved in a collision increases.

A driver distraction is categorised as a secondary activity, undertaken when driving, that distracts the driver from fully concentrating on the act of driving.

There is a common misconception that the human brain is capable of multi-tasking and able to concentrate on more than one task at once. However, this has been proven to be a myth as research has shown that the brain never fully concentrates on all the tasks at the same time but, rather, switches back and forth between them. This means that there are periods when a driver is not concentrating fully on the act of driving and is putting their life, and the lives of others, at risk.

Distractions can be split in to four key areas:

Cognitive – Driver is thinking about something not related to driving (for example replying to a question)

Visual – Driver sees an object/event that impairs the driver’s observations of the surrounding road environment (for example looking at a sat nav)

Audible – A sound prevents the driver from fully concentrating on driving as their attention has been drawn to the sound (for example listening to a conversation)

Manual – Driver undertakes a physical task not related to the act of driving the vehicle (for example lighting a cigarette)

A single task/event can be linked to more than one of the four key distraction areas. There is also a fifth key area that needs to be taken in to account and that all distractions are subject to, known as ‘exposure time’. Exposure time relates to the length of time the driver is occupied with the distraction. The chart below details some of the more common forms of driver distraction and how highly they rate as a distraction in each of the key areas.

(Chart produced by the Transport Research Laboratory)

How to avoid becoming distracted while driving:

  • If you have to undertake a secondary task when driving then find somewhere safe to pull over first
  • Recognise what distracts you and either, remove the distraction from the vehicle before starting your journey, or remind yourself that you must not do that task until you have found somewhere safe to pull over
  • Take plenty of breaks. Boredom on long journeys is a major contributory factor to a driver succumbing to outside visual distractions
  • Plan your route. If you properly plan your route you will be less distracted by road signs or checking the sat-nav

If you are involved in a collision and are found to have been distracted when driving, then you could be charged with a range of offences from Dangerous Driving through to Driving Without Due Care and Attention.  

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