When you are driving around in your car, you have to do several things at the same time. You complete various driving “tasks” without thinking, such as starting the engine, accelerating and decelerating, as a matter course and without any effort. Having said that, interaction with other road users and sudden dangers mean that you need to be extremely vigilant.
This is why even the most experienced driver needs to be as focused as possible. If a driver is distracted, the normal reaction time of around one second is slower, and they can’t react appropriately to unusual situations.
Using your phone at the wheel is clearly one of the biggest risks, as you obviously take your attention off the road. One of the consequences is that we only focus on the vehicle in front and our field of vision is inevitably much reduced as a result. As we are concentrating on the other person, driving becomes a secondary activity. And reading a text message on your smart phone for three seconds at 70 km/h means you are driving 58 metres without looking at the road! Would you deliberately close your eyes for three seconds at that speed? Probably not.
Distracted drivers give themselves away with sharp braking, not driving in a straight line and even driving in the opposite lane. This isn’t only down to using a smart phone: fiddling with the radio, navigation and multi-media systems are already a source of inattention and needs to be done before you start driving. And it’s not a good idea to pick up items that have fallen around your feet while you’re driving. For safety reasons, avoid eating your breakfast, smoking or shaving while driving. Don’t underestimate the effect of your attention being hijacked by children crying or disjointed/ excited conversations with the front passenger. Back in the day, the five-time F1 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio said that conversations with the passenger or a car radio were a distraction to drivers. As a driver, stay alert, as other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, might be distracted too.
But visibility and reaction time aren’t the only things impaired by sources of distraction. Due to what we call “inattentional blindness”, drivers fail to see objects that are easily noticed in normal situations. Distraction reduces the processing capacity of the human brain and important information is unconsciously ignored. This causes numerous accidents that aren’t down to alcohol or excessive speed.
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