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Home/News/Driver Distractions

Driver Distractions

Mobile in Car

We all know that getting distracted while driving doesn’t take much. A chatty passenger or a favourite song can easily divert your attention from the task of driving safely. With the increase of technology dependency comes the increase in temptation to participate in distracting activities.

Driver distraction contributes significantly to serious road crashes. Although driving feels like second nature to most of us, it is a complex task, and to anticipate and avoid hazards on the road, you need to concentrate and give it your full attention.


Between 15-20% of all distractions appear to involve driver interaction with technology. It has been estimated that distraction played a role in 32% of all road crash deaths and serious injuries in Western Australia between 2005 and 2007. Approximately one third of all distractions appear to be outside-the-vehicle distractions,

Distraction appears to be largely associated with rear-end crashes, same travel-way or same direction crashes, single vehicle crashes, and crashed occurring at night.

What are some common distractions for drivers?

Anything that takes your attention off the road while driving can be considered a distraction. Some of the more common distractions are the use of mobile phones, drinking and eating, smoking, passengers, music, global positioning system (GPS), applying make-up and advertising.

Mobile Phones

We use our mobile phones for everything: calls, messaging, email, Internet, games, and even as a GPS. Mobile phone use while driving has become such a problem that there are now strict laws in place in Australian states to control their use.

Using a mobile phone while driving can:

  • Impair your ability to maintain the correct lane position.
  • Impair your ability to maintain an appropriate and predictable speed.
  • Result in longer reaction times to detect and respond to unexpected events.
  • Result in missing traffic signals.
  • Reduce the functional visual field of view, which in turn, has been shown to be associated with an increase in crash involvement.
  • Result in shorter following distances to vehicles in front.
  • Result in accepting gaps in traffic streams that are not large enough.
  • Increase your mental workload, resulting in higher levels of stress and frustration.
  • Encourage you to look straight ahead rather than scanning around the road ahead.
  • Reduce your awareness of what is happening around you in time and space.

As a result of these impacts on driving performance, the use of a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash by up to 4 times.

The safest option is to turn your mobile off while driving.

FACT: Sending a text message is even more distracting than talking on a mobile phone.

Food and Drink

It might be hard to resist that handful of chips after a quick pit-stop through a fast-food drive through but eating or drinking whilst driving is a major distraction on the road. An American study has found eating a cheeseburger can be more distracting than talking on a mobile.

Kids in the Car

It’s no secret, children can easily become bored, bored children can become disruptive and in a moving vehicle this is distracting no matter how long the trip is. It is essential to keep the kids entertained so you can keep your focus on the road. Keeping some favourite books, magazines, and toys in the car and within easy reach will help combat the boredom and help make the journey a safe and peaceful one.

Pets in the Car

Very few pets will remain still in a moving vehicle which is a major distraction for anyone in the front seat. Familiarizing the vehicle with your pet, getting them as comfortable as possible before the journey and having appropriate restraints within the car can prevent your fur buddy from distracting you. There are also laws in place about travelling in cars with pets, so make sure you’re familiar with these before setting off.

Adjusting Vehicle Settings

This is the most common bad driving habit because most people don’t realise it’s dangerous to fiddle with the radio, air-conditioning or windows while driving. Flicking between radio stations, changing CD’s, choosing a song on your music device or any other activity can take your concentration away from the road and causes you to be a hazard to yourself and other road users.

Opposites Attract

We have all done it at one time or another, become distracted by a good looking passerby when driving. A survey conducted last year showed 51% of male drivers and 15% of female drivers admitted to openly appreciating an attractive pedestrian.

Sun Glare

Driving into the sun at dusk or dawn can be particularly distracting if it forces you to squint. Sunglasses are a necessity, and pulling down the sun visor may help. Adjusting your sitting position may help if you find the sun is right in your line of vision. Try adjusting your position so that your eyes are shaded or if it is unbearable, pull over and wait 10 minutes for the sun to rise or set.

Managing Driver Distractions

While some level of distraction when driving a motor vehicle is unavoidable, there are a number of simple things drivers can do to manage it:

  • Make sure the vehicle’s windscreens and mirrors are clean and unobstructed.
  • Adjust all vehicle controls (including radio/CD player) before setting off.
  • Ensure pets are properly restrained in the vehicle
  • Turn off your mobile phone when driving
  • If you are unfamiliar with the route, familiarise yourself with a map and directions before starting the journey or have a passenger read out directions.
  • Ask passengers to be quite if you find you are having difficulties concentrating because of the noise level.
  • Take a break rather than trying to eat, drink, smoke or groom yourself while driving.
  • Identify what makes you distracted and take steps to avoid engaging in that activity when driving, or find a safe place to pull over and do it.

Legal Issues

While ‘distraction’ is not an offence in Western Australia under the Road Traffic Act 1974 or the Road Traffic Code 2000, there are a number of offences that drivers can commit if they make errors as a result of distraction. These range from not giving way, to more serious offences like speeding, reckless driving, dangerous driving and careless driving.

However, the law does apply to two potentially distracting activities. First, the illegal use of a mobile phone while driving a vehicle currently carries a penalty of a $400 fine and the loss of three demerit points. Second, the illegal use of a television receiver or visual display unit while driving a motor vehicle currently carries a penalty of a $300 fine and the loss of three demerit points.

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