Driving Distractions

We have all read about the various things that distract you when driving.  The first ones that probably come to mind are:  texting, mobile phones, music, children, and other passengers

Distractions fall into four main categories:


  1. Visual distractions

Visual distractions are anything that causes a driver to stop looking where they are going and are most likely to lead to steering problems

A well reported visual distraction was in the early 1900s with the introduction of windscreen wipers, which were mesmerising drivers!  A recent survey (by Ford) found that British were the most likely to be distracted by an attractive pedestrian!

Other types of visual distraction include direction boards, using a sat-nav, roadside advertising, sun in a drivers eyes, and looking to see what the children are doing.


  1. Auditory distractions

Sound such as music, or someone talking are classified as auditory distractions. Whilst low-level sound is not deemed to be a distraction, loud music, low flying aircraft and the two-tone emergency sirens are examples.  Children shouting in the back seats of a car are also auditory distractions.


  1. Cognitive distractions

Cognitive distractions occur when a driver stops concentrating on their driving, and becomes ‘lost in thought’  How many times have you heard somebody say “I cannot remember my journey to work today”?

 A number of studies have shown that when a driver is not thinking about their driving, they get tunnel vision as their eyes are no longer scanning the road for hazards, but are staring fixedly ahead.

 This type of distraction is likely to result in leaving less room between the drivers vehicle and the vehicle in front.


  1. Physical distractions

Physical distractions (also called biochemical) are related to doing something manual other than just driving.

There are many examples, including eating, dialling/texting, smoking, using in-car technologies (e.g. twiddling knobs and buttons!).

4-distractionsWhilst it is interesting to classify the types of distraction, there are many things drivers do that fall into more than one classification.  For example, texting uses visual, cognitive and physical distractions.


The major insurance company Avira have stated “Due to our digital lifestyles, it’s believed that humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish.”



Age related distractions


The European research by Ford, found that the British drivers aged 17-24 were also the most likely in Europe to be distracted.


The RAC have also conducted research into distractions, and they agree that the younger drivers were more likely to become distracted.  They explain “Over a third (39%) of UK motorists become seriously distracted when driving. Young drivers (17 to 24 year olds) are the most likely to lose concentration behind the wheel with over half (55%) confessing that they become ‘seriously distracted’. “


Driving while listening to music via headphones (20%), and putting on make-up (16%) were two of the more surprising distractions the RAC found.


In-car technologies and gadgets form a major group of distractions.  David Bizley, RAC director of technical said: “In-car distractions continue to be a significant road safety issue, especially for the new generation of drivers. While in-car gadgets do make journeys easier and more entertaining it’s important that they are used appropriately. Even a split second distraction can have potentially disastrous consequences. “


Accident Statistics

There appear to be no government statistics on driving distractions, but there is a widely cited study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an American road safety organisation.


The study was based on 5 years data from the  National Accident Sampling System and the Crashworthiness Data System, and only covered those accidents reported to the US police.


Interestingly, the use of mobiles is very low as compared to other distractions, whilst in the UK it is one of the ‘fatal four’, that is deemed one of the four biggest dangers whilst driving.


The report highlights “Young drivers (under 20 years of age) were the most likely to be involved in distraction-related crashes.  In addition, certain types of distractions were more prominent in certain age groups, for example, adjusting the radio, cassette or CD among the under 20-year-olds; other occupants (e.g., young children) among 20-29 year-olds; and outside objects and events among those age 65 and older.  Variations by driver sex were less pronounced, although males were slightly more likely than females to be categorized as distracted at the time of their crash”



Insurance companies have warned that if a driver makes a claim citing a distraction related accident, they could decide that the driver was not displaying due care and attention.  Matt Oliver, car insurance spokesperson for GoCompare, points out “Depending on how badly the distraction is affecting their driving, drivers could be charged with a range of offences including driving without due care and attention, failure to be in proper control of their vehicle, or dangerous driving.”



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