• While mobile phones are a major driver distraction, research reveals the dangers of other forms of in-car multi-tasking
  • Driving ability massively decreases when motorists are distracted
  • Discover the surprisingly common habits that increase the risk of road traffic accidents

Getting behind the wheel of a car and driving is something most people don't even think twice about. It's second nature. The reality though is that driving is a risky business and requires full concentration. Drivers who divide their attention, because they're on the phone or distracted by something in the car, significantly increase their chance of being involved in a car accident.

The statistics around road traffic accidents are alarming. According to a report by the Department for Transport, 1,732 people were killed in crashes in 2015 and a further 184,000 people were injured or seriously injured. 

Whilst any number of factors could have caused these casualties, research shows 98% of drivers are not able to multitask without their driving performance seriously suffering as a result. 

There are three main types of in-car distraction:

  • Visual – This is a distraction that causes the driver to take their eyes off the road, e.g. turning around to look at something on the back seat
  • Manual – A distraction that causes the driver to take their hands of the wheel, like eating or drinking
  • Cognitive – A type of distraction that causes the driver to divert their attention from the road, such as using a mobile phone

Which of these driving distractions are familiar?

Your emotions

US researchers at Virginia Tech found that driving while sad, angry or agitated is far more likely to result in a crash than being tired or using a mobile phone. 

Dr Tom Dingus, lead author of the study and director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, said "Driving while observably angry, sad, crying or emotionally agitated increases the risk of a crash by 9.8 times compared with model driving."

Eating and drinking

One study found that drivers who eat and drink at the wheel are twice as likely to crash. Hardly surprising when there's the potential for spills, crumbs, grease and unwrapping packaging – all of which could cause drivers to take at least one hand off the wheel.

Your favourite song

Reaction times can decrease by up to 20% if drivers listen to loud music in the car, according to research reported by the RAC Foundation. The type of music can also affect driving style. Drivers who choose slower tempo music could avoid accidents, as music with a fast beat resulted in drivers more likely to go through a red light and have twice as many accidents. Think more Norah Jones, less Prodigy.

In-car technology

Many modern vehicles have built-in technology designed to make the driver safer or more comfortable. But some in-car tech can be a dangerous distraction. Using a digital dashboard to check messages, social media or control the car's radio or air conditioning can all lead to drivers taking their eyes off the road.

Man's best friend

In a recent US survey, 29% of drivers said they had been distracted by their dog while they were driving – with 17% admitting they allowed their dog to sit in their lap! Keep yourself and your pet safe by making sure your dog's in a secure kennel or clipped into a harness on the backseat before you drive off.

Reaching for things on the backseat

The Virginia Tech research also found that reaching for something in your car that's just out of reach makes you nine times more likely to have a car accident. But seeing as you're not using your phone, eating or drinking – what else could you possibly need?

Putting make-up on

Finally, applying make-up is a startlingly common distraction for drivers. A survey of 1,000 women commuters revealed that nearly half admitted to putting their face on behind the wheel – with 43% saying they did it, even though they knew it was wrong. 

In short, distracted driving is dangerous driving

So, it turns out mobile phones are not the only distraction risk for drivers – even the simplest of things could lead to a major car accident. To avoid accidents when you're driving, stay focussed, keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and avoid doing anything in the car that could take your mind off your driving. Oh, and make sure you've got a copy of Norah Jones' Greatest Hits in your CD player…

Sources 

[1] www.nhtsa.gov