Fully focused or distracted driver?

There’s an interesting statistic I read recently from the RAC…

Apparently 75% of motorists regularly observe other drivers speaking on their mobile phone while driving, although only 8% of drivers admit doing it themselves. That doesn’t quite add up! But, when we are increasingly busy, rushing from place to place with a hundred things on our mind, there is a great temptation to use our time in the car to catch up on other things. From phone calls to eating lunch. Which is fine if you’re in the passenger seat but not so fine if you are in charge of a 40mph vehicle!

Does it really make a difference?

Many people justify their behaviour by claiming they are able to do two things at once and so can remain fully focused on their driving despite chatting on the phone. We hear that excuse sometimes from those who have had a few drinks before driving and also claim to be fully in control. And the similarities don’t end there. Simulator studies have shown that certain aspects of driving performance were impaired more by having a mobile phone conversation (hands-free or hand-held) than having a blood alcohol level of 80mg/100ml – the UK drink-driving limit.

In 2016, 3% of collisions involving injuries involved some form of distraction from inside the vehicle. But this is likely to be a gross underestimate and there is a lack of a common definition of what constitutes a distraction. What’s more, they are unlikely to be recorded or even noticed at the scene. But 32 fatal crashes, where mobile phone use was implicated, were recorded in 2016. That’s 32 too many.


What distracts us?

Various surveys have noted a range of potentially distracting behaviour in the vehicle. Talking, adjusting the radio or sat-nav, mobile phone use (hands-free, hand-held and texting) smoking, vaping, eating and drinking. And I’ve seen women putting on their make-up at the lights on more than one occasion! Another RAC stat reports 7% of drivers admitting to texting when driving though over 50% have seen others doing it. And worryingly, 15% of younger drivers age 17-24 admit to it. This combination of increased phone use and driver inexperience is a worrying one – hence the fact that new drivers, caught using a phone whilst driving, risk losing their licence altogether.

Is it illegal?

Using a hand-held mobile phone is illegal whilst you are driving or supervising a learner driver. In fact, it risks a penalty of six points and a £200 fine. If you end up in court, you could lose your licence and be fined up to £1000 (£2,500 if you are driving a lorry or bus).

The rule applies even if you are stopped at the lights or are queuing in traffic. If you are safely parked or need to call 999 and it’s not possible to stop, you are allowed to make the call. Whilst it just applies to hand-held devices, a hands-free device should be fully hands-free – you aren’t allowed to pick it up at all, even for a minute. And if you are using it as a sat-nav you should fix it to the dashboard, not hold it.

Whilst eating, drinking, smoking and vaping are not illegal when driving, the police can still stop you if they think you are not in control of your car because you are distracted or if your view is impaired. With 3 million e-cigarette users in the UK, many of them driving, the issue of smoke clouds temporarily blocking vision is increasing. And driving with head-phones is a potential problem too – it may mean you can’t hear an approaching siren which puts you and others at risk. Driving without due care and attention can land you a fine of up to £2,500, three to nine penalty points and even a disqualification from driving.

What’s the answer?

Whilst technology has added to our distractions, it’s now able to offer some solutions! My phone blocks calls and messages when I’m driving. And a good hands-free set up is easy to install for calls or sat-nav, if we make the time to do it.

As for eating and drinking, we are far better off having a good meal and drink before we set off on long journeys – low in sugar to avoid blood sugar dips, but high in protein and healthy fats to keep us fully fuelled. And, if coffee or energy drinks are needed, perhaps you should be re-thinking that journey….drowsy-driving is as bad as drink-driving. But that’s a whole other article!