Arrive Alive

Avoiding Distractions whilst Driving

It is important to stay alert at all times – and to act with extreme caution when climbing behind the steering wheel of a vehicle.

Not only does the driver have to avoid distractions – but passengers have to ensure that they are not the cause of such distractions.

To test your concentration as a driver you need to answer the following questions:

  • Are you always prepared to avoid a car swerving in front of you?
  • How about braking for a pedestrian who suddenly steps into your path?
  • Can you steer safely clear of debris falling from a truck?

Types of  driver distractions posing a risk to road safety

Physical distractions

Physical distractions are actions the driver might perform, actions by his passengers or technology in the car – and also distractions outside the vehicle that could divert the attention of the driver away from safely driving the vehicle.

Mental and emotional distractions

Mental and emotional distractions may cause a driver to be more aggressive and less tolerant of other drivers. He might also become less attentive towards environmental conditions and hazards on the road.

Most common distractions

Physical distractions:

  • Roadside activities such as accidents or vehicles stopped by police/ traffic officers

  • Looking around at outdoor advertising, construction sites etc

  • Reading maps or newspapers

  • Personal grooming such as shaving, applying lipstick or mascara, combing
    or brushing hair

  • Eating or drinking beverages

  • Changing clothing

  • Looking for lost or fallen items

  • Flying insects

  • Talking on cellular telephones

  • Checking pagers

  • Tuning the radio, tape or CD players

  • Conversing with adult passengers

  • Tending to small children and infants

  • Smoking

Mental and emotional distractions:

  • Strong emotions of anger and grief

  • Driver tiredness/ drowsiness

  • Arguments and emotional conversations may lead to further distracting your attention

How to avoid distractions

  • Stay focused and alert at all times

  • Practise short quick glances and avoid prolonged staring

  • Never read whilst driving – rather pull off the road to read

  • Do not attempt to change or pull off clothing while driving

  • Conduct personal grooming before leaving or after reaching your destination

  • Do not allow passengers to interfere with your concentration

  • Make sure children and  pets are properly restrained before you start driving – and give children items to occupy themselves

  • Use pet carriers or portable kennels to restrict the ability of animals to roam around in the vehicle.

  • Pull over and stop if small children require attention that could divert your concentration from the road

  • Avoid eating and drinking while driving - fumbling with napkins, wrappers and beverages means you’re not watching the road.

  • Plan your trip in advance and allow yourself time to stop and have a bit to eat.

Distractions caused by cellular phones and technology

There is a growing concern about the dangers posed by motorists using cellular phones whilst driving. An international survey amongst 837 drivers with cell phones found that almost half swerved or drifted into another lane, 23% had tailgated, 21% cut someone off and 18% nearly hit another vehicle while using the phone.

  • Best advice is to avoid using cellular phones when driving

  • When the phone rings, let it ring! It’s better to use your phone’s voicemail or even miss a call than to put yourself, your passengers or others at risk.

  • Use hand free microphones

  • If you have to make a call on a hands-free cellular phone – ask a passenger to dial or answer the phone for you

  • Keep your calls brief

  • If you expect such a call to last longer than a few seconds – be on the lookout for a suitable spot to pull over

  • Never take notes or jot down numbers whilst driving

  • When in heavy traffic –rather tell the person you will call back when it is safer

Do not allow technology to divert your concentration - inserting a CD or searching for a radio station makes poses a much greater risk than glancing at the fuel gauge or speedometer

To understand the impact of using advanced in-car technologies on driving performance and traffic safety, visit the Applied Cognition Laboratory for research by Prof David Strayer, Principal Investigator, Department of Psychology, University of Utah

  • Ask your passenger to adjust the radio or climate controls for you

  • With more complex devices – GPS/navigation systems, etc. – take the time to stop in a safe place before giving them your attention.

Also, visit the following sections:

Texting and Driver Distractions

Drowsiness/ Driver tiredness

Avoiding aggressive driving

Travelling with Pets

Cellular Technology and Road Safety

Hands-Free, Distracted Driving and Road Safety

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