Imagine this: you’re racing to school drop off with a trio of kids in the back seat. Your phone is blowing up with notifications, the little ones are fighting over what’s on the radio and you can’t remember if you turned off the iron.
Sound familiar? This everyday scenario is actually a common example of distracted driving, and it can have devastating consequences.
Road safety research tells us that taking our eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles our risk of a car crash (or a potential collision). So, let’s walk you through exactly what is distracted driving, the common scenarios you might face and the practical steps you can take to get to your destination safely.
What is distracted driving?
Driving a car might be something we do on a daily basis, but it actually requires our full attention. When our mind drifts to our to-do list or we have a noisy pet barking in the back seat, our attention is taken away from the road and conditions in front of us.
We know that distracted driving is becoming one of the most common causes of road accidents in Australia.
Most of us know the dangers of checking our phones or texting while driving. But did you know even talking on a phone (hands-free) while driving takes nearly 40% of our attention away from the road? This heightens our risk of missing important visual cues that can help us avoid a crash.
Unfortunately, the research tells us that women are more likely to use their phones while behind the wheel (while men are four times more likely to drive and drive). While we might consider ourselves skilled multitaskers in our daily life, the reality is that it’s impossible (and can be incredibly unsafe) to effectively multi-task while driving.
The types of distractions you might face when driving
There are three main ways we can find ourselves distracted while driving: by taking our eyes away from the road (visual distractions), taking our hands off the wheel (physical distraction) and noises or thoughts that interrupt our concentration while driving (cognitive distractions).
As the name suggests, visual distractions are any kind of interrupt that moves our gaze and eyeliner away from the road. In two seconds, we can drive 28 meters while traveling just 50km/h. Imagine how far you’d be traveling on a freeway or highway?
Typically, visual distractions involve things like reading a passing billboard and turning to chat with passengers in the back or passenger seat.
Plus, our mobile phones can be a major visual distraction, with the stats showing that using a phone while driving increases the risk of a car accident by four times.
This type of distraction is all about taking our hands off the wheel while driving. Not only does this reduce the control we have over the car but it also means our response times to unexpected road conditions will be slower.
Typically, physical distractions include things like eating or drinking while driving, patting a pet in the back seat as well as changing the radio or your driving playlist.
The other major category of driving distractions is cognitive distractions. These are any interruptions that bring our focus away from the task we’re performing (a.k.a. Driving our car).
Often, the main causes of cognitive distraction are talking to passengers, chatting on the phone or thinking about things we need to do.
Ultimately, no matter what causes the interruption, distraction is a major risk when it comes to our likelihood of having a car accident. When our attention is drawn away from the road, we can make riskier decisions and have less time to react to what’s happening ahead of us.
Plus, we’re not as in-tune with what’s happening around us. If we forget to check our mirrors or blind spots, we can put ourselves and others at risk.
How to reduce and prevent distractions when behind the wheel
There is a stack of practical steps we can take to reduce our chances of becoming a distracted driver, including:
- Turning the music down or off when navigating new roads or high traffic areas (and making sure you’ve got your playlist selected before you begin your drive).
- Storing away loose items in a bag or in the boot of your car to avoid objects spilling into the wrong areas of the car.
- Avoid phone calls or any kind of phone use while driving and switch your phone to Do Not Disturb mode.
- Ensuring your pets are properly secured in the back seat using an appropriate harness or pet carrier.
- Pull into a parking spot or park to eat takeaway food and drinks to keep your focus on the road.
With just a few simple steps and changes, you can dramatically reduce your chance of becoming distracted while driving and boost the safety of every drive you take.