The act of driving demands significant mental and physical energy. However, the consequences of distracted driving often go underestimated, leading to a high number of accidents and fatalities annually. In the UK alone, between 2014 and 2019, a total of 133 fatalities and 446 serious accidents were directly linked to drivers being distracted by their phones. This alarming statistic underscores the importance of understanding the reasons behind distracted driving and finding effective solutions.
At Orion Safety Belts, we always care about your safety on the road. That’s why, in this blog post, we’ll be delving into the most common causes of distracted driving, the science behind it, and practical tips to manage and prevent it. By following these strategies, you can help keep yourself and others safe on the road.
Understanding Distracted Driving: The Science Behind It
Before we get to the distracted driving solutions, we need to understand the problem. We can define this issue as a state of mental or physical engagement in non-driving activities that divert attention away from the road. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including using a mobile phone, eating, or even having a conversation with passengers.
When we are distracted, our ability to focus on the road and react to changes in traffic or road conditions is significantly impaired. Studies show that distracted driving can have effects similar to driving under the influence of alcohol. For instance, a study by Duy Tran and his colleagues found that distractions can be detected in real-time using deep learning, and a warning system can alert the driver when they are not focusing on the driving task.
To delve deeper into the science behind this driving phenomenon, it’s important to understand that driving is a complex task that requires the simultaneous processing of visual, auditory, and physical information. It also requires the driver to make quick decisions based on this information. When a driver is distracted, their cognitive resources are divided between driving and the distracting task, which can lead to decreased performance in both tasks.
The brain has a limited capacity for attention, and when it’s divided between tasks, it can lead to “inattention blindness,” where drivers may not see objects directly in front of them because their attention is focused elsewhere. This is particularly dangerous when driving, as it can lead to missed traffic signals, pedestrians, or unexpected obstacles.
Moreover, distractions can lead to slower reaction times. A study by the Transport Research Laboratory in the UK found that drivers’ reaction times were around 35% slower when they were texting compared to when they were not distracted. This delay in reaction time can be the difference between avoiding an accident and a collision.
Another aspect of the science behind distracted driving is the impact of “cognitive load”. Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. High cognitive load, as seen during multitasking or when dealing with complex tasks, can lead to errors and decreased task performance. When driving, an increase in cognitive load due to distractions can lead to a decrease in driving performance and an increase in the likelihood of an accident.
Furthermore, research has shown that the effects of distraction can linger even after the distracting activity has ended. This phenomenon, known as the “residual effect” of distraction, can lead to impaired driving performance for several seconds to minutes after the distraction has ended.
With this in mind, the science underscores the importance of maintaining focus on the road and minimising distractions to ensure safe driving.
Causes of Distracted Driving: What to Look Out For
So what exactly causes distracted driving? Well, it can be caused by a variety of factors, both internal and external. Here are some factors that commonly contribute to distraction behind the wheel:
Mobile phone usage: This is one of the most common causes of distracted driving. Whether it’s texting, calling, or using navigation apps, mobile phone usage can significantly divert your attention away from the road.
In-car technology: Modern vehicles come equipped with a variety of features like touchscreens, GPS systems, and voice command functions. While these features are designed to enhance the driving experience, they can also be a source of distraction.
Eating or drinking: Eating or drinking while driving requires you to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road, making it a dangerous distraction.
Passengers: Engaging in conversations with passengers can divert your attention away from the road. This is particularly common among young and inexperienced drivers.
Daydreaming: It may sound like a silly point to mention but it is more significant than you think, especially on those long road trips. Even without any external distractions, drivers can become lost in thought, leading to a state of distraction.
The Most Common Symptoms of Distracted Driving: Know What to Look For
Frequent lane changes: If you find yourself frequently changing lanes or having difficulty maintaining a straight line, it may be a sign of distraction.
Missing traffic signs: Failing to notice traffic signs or signals is a common symptom.
Slow reaction times: Distracted drivers often have slower reaction times, making it difficult to respond quickly to changes in traffic or road conditions.
Close calls: If you’ve had several near misses or close calls, it’s a clear sign that you’re not fully focused on the road.
The Role of Seat Belts in Distracted Driving
While seat belts may not directly prevent distracted driving, they play a crucial role in mitigating the consequences of a potential accident caused by distraction. Seat belts are designed to secure the occupant of a vehicle against harmful movement that may result during a collision or a sudden stop.
In the UK, seat belt usage is high, with 94.8% of all drivers observed using a seatbelt in 2021. However, even with these high usage rates, there are still instances where seat belts are not used, leading to severe consequences. According to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death for drivers in a road collision by around 50%. Yet, there were 261 deaths where a seat belt was legally required but not worn in 2018 in Great Britain.
When a driver is distracted, the risk of an accident increases significantly. In such a scenario, wearing a seat belt can be the difference between life and death. Seat belts reduce the risk of death by 50% and cut the risk of serious injury significantly.
Moreover, seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from being ejected during a potential crash. People not wearing seat belts are at a much higher risk of being ejected from a vehicle during a crash. More than three out of four people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries.
Seat belts are the single most effective traffic safety device for preventing death and injury. Wearing a seat belt can easily make a difference in surviving a serious crash.
At Orion Safety Belts, we understand the importance of seat belts as well as ensuring driver and passenger safety. That’s why we offer a wide range of seat belt installations, repairs, webbing, replacements, and many more bespoke servicing options that cater to your individual needs.
Distracted Driving Solutions: Measures Against Distracted Driving
Now, we already established that distractions are a significant issue that can lead to severe accidents and fatalities. However, by understanding the risks and taking proactive measures, we can significantly reduce the incidence of distracted driving. Here are some preventive strategies and measures that you can use:
Limit mobile phone usage: Avoid using your mobile phone while driving. If you need to make a call or send a message, pull over to a safe location first. Consider using applications or settings on your phone that prevent you from receiving calls or messages while driving.
Plan your route: Knowing your route in advance can reduce the need to use navigation systems while driving. If you need to use a navigation system, set your destination before you start driving and use a hands-free or voice-activated system.
Avoid eating or drinking: Try to eat or drink before or after your journey, not while driving. If you need to eat or drink, pull over to a safe location first.
Stay focused: Keep your attention on the road at all times. Avoid daydreaming or getting lost in thought while driving. If you find your mind wandering, take a break from driving.
Limit the number of passengers: Having multiple passengers in the car, especially young children, can be a significant distraction. Limit the number of passengers in your vehicle, and make sure children are occupied with quiet activities that won’t distract you.
Secure your pets: If you’re travelling with pets, make sure they are securely restrained. Unrestrained pets can be a significant distraction and can also be injured in the event of a crash.
Keep your vehicle tidy: Loose objects in your car can be a distraction, especially if they’re moving around while you’re driving. Keep your vehicle tidy to minimise distractions.
Use vehicle controls responsibly: Adjust controls like air conditioning, radio, and windows only when it’s safe to do so. If you need to adjust these controls while driving, try to do so during a stop in traffic or pull over to a safe location.
Avoid multitasking: While it might seem like you’re saving time, multitasking while driving significantly increases your crash risk. Focus solely on driving and leave other tasks for when you’re not behind the wheel.
Take regular breaks: On long journeys, fatigue can become a significant distraction and issues like the previously-mentioned daydreaming can become a problem. So, take regular breaks to rest and refresh yourself.
By following these strategies, you can significantly reduce your risk of distracted driving and help to keep the roads safer for everyone.
In conclusion, distracted driving is a serious problem that can lead to accidents and injuries on the road. By understanding the external factors that can contribute to distraction and taking steps to prevent it, we can ensure that our streets are safer for everyone. Remember, preventing distraction is not just about addressing internal factors; it’s also about recognising and avoiding external factors that can contribute to distraction.
As responsible drivers, we must prioritise our safety and the safety of others on the road. So next time you get behind the wheel, make sure you’re well-prepared and ready to tackle the road ahead.