Together with speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol, distracted driving is one of the top three causes of all South African road accidents. Driving requires the brain to engage cognitively, visually and manually and cognitive distraction studies clearly show that the more distractions that are introduced into the vehicle, the more unfocused the driver becomes – be it listening to the radio or an audio book, talking hands-free or talking to passengers.
The biggest cause of distracted driving is the use of cellphones with up to 75% of all motorists admitting to using their phone while driving. If one takes a look at what this means, roughly 52 seconds of distracted driving is the equivalent of driving “blind” for 1 km at a speed of 60kph. While many drivers think that sending voice notes is safer, a recent Texan study shows that using voice to send messages while driving is just as dangerous as texting manually. This is largely because one is still mentally composing the message, which significantly reduces focus on the road. Research also shows that drivers typically slow down when making or taking calls and then speed up once the call is concluded, causing unpredictability for drivers around them.
Cellphone use aside, the Automobile Association (AA) lists the most common causes of distractions that result in accidents as:
- Eating while driving.
- Putting on ties or other clothing while driving, or changing clothes when driving.
- Applying make-up while driving.
- Looking to the backseat to engage passengers, especially children.
- Setting GPS devices while moving.
- Searching for items in various areas of the car while driving.
While the individual figures may differ, the studies all agree that being proactive increases your safety over being reactive. Keeping safe on the road includes planning your GPS route before you leave the house, concentrating on what other drivers are doing and being aware of your surroundings. It also means not drinking or doing drugs (including prescription drugs that may cause drowsiness) before or during a journey. Other important factors to bear in mind are wearing a seatbelt, keeping under the speed limit and maintaining a following distance of at least one car’s length at all times, and – most importantly – turning the cellphone off and keeping it in the boot or glove-compartment.