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Distraction

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Distraction when driving has always been a risk. But as more and more of us surround ourselves with new technology – from satnav devices to smartphones, so the risk of distraction rises. A UK survey found a 50% increase between 2011 and 2012 in 17 to 24-year-olds using the internet via smartphones while driving.

While exact figures on the number of accidents caused by distraction are not available, a Dutch study estimated that eliminating mobile phone use while driving would have prevented nearly 600 road deaths and hospital admissions in one year alone.

Common causes of distraction

  • Smartphone/mobile phone
  • GPS & satnav
  • Stereo
  • Eating
  • Smoking
  • Passengers

Most distractions can be avoided by good organization. Eat, smoke or make that call before hitting the road, and pull over to deal with children or take a call.

Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel

Distraction takes many forms, with some activities stealing the driver’s attention in more ways than one.

Physical distraction

  • Happens when a driver has to use one or both hands to answer a call, send a text message, use a satnav, change radio channel, eat or smoke
  • Both hands should be available to steer and change gear at all times

Visual distraction

  • Caused when a driver looks away from the road, e.g. to use phone or satnav

Auditory distraction

  • Occurs when a driver is distracted by the initial ringing of the phone, a telephone conversation, or even a conversation with a passenger

Mental distraction

  • Happens when two mental tasks are performed at the same time
  • Listening alone can reduce activity in the part of the brain used for driving by more than a third

The law

  • Using a hand-held phone while driving is illegal in all EU countries
  • Using a hands-free device is also illegal in some countries
  • Eating, drinking and smoking are not illegal, but drivers can be charged with careless driving if police believe they are not in control of the vehicle