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Don’t be a distracted driver- Follow our top tips

Don’t be a distracted driver- Follow our top tips


When we talk about driver distractions, we often think about a motorist being on their mobile phone behind the wheel. But mobile phones are not the only distraction. Many of us are less aware of the other things that can distract us while we are driving, taking our full attention off the driving task and increasing our chances of being involved in a crash.

A driver is distracted when they pay attention to a second activity while driving. People cannot always safely multi-task in this way, especially if the second activity is time consuming or complex.

The second activity puts extra demands on the driver, which may reduce their driving standard. For example, it may cause the driver to become less observant or to make poor decisions about how to control the vehicle safely. This lower standard of driving means that a driver is more likely to fail to anticipate hazards and means collisions can occur due to the distraction.

In theory, there are as many potential causes of distraction as there are things to which drivers could pay attention. In reality, however, drivers tend to prioritise information so that they pay the most attention to information or activities needed for driving.

Distraction can be either driver initiated (where the driver starts carrying out a distracting activity) or non-driver initiated (the unpredictable actions of something or someone else).

Objects, events or activities, both inside and outside the vehicle, can cause distraction.

In-vehicle distractions can be caused by technology, or by other sources inside the vehicle such as passengers, or engaging in an activity such as eating, drinking, lighting a cigarette or vaping. External distractions may be when a driver concentrates on unimportant events or objects, or when another person does something unusual.

Distraction is so dangerous because it causes drivers to look at their mirrors, instrument panel and what’s happening in the environment around them much less. Instead, they concentrate their observations straight ahead, and so are more likely to detect hazards later than they would otherwise have done.

Worryingly, distracted drivers underestimate the effects that distraction has on them, and do not perceive their reduced awareness or their ability to spot hazards. This may be because they are still looking at the road straight ahead and are not gathering the whole picture of the road around the vehicle.

Drivers who are distracted also have difficulty controlling their speed and their distance from the vehicle in front, and their lane position can vary drastically.

Distraction is a difficult risk to manage so how can we deal with it? On the one hand, some level of distraction is unavoidable, but drivers can take some simple steps to avoid becoming distracted.

  • If you need to do something distracting, find a safe place to pull over. You can prevent yourself from doing distracting things behind the wheel by finding a safe place to pull over first. By planning so that you are not trying to drive and do other tasks at the same time, you can reduce the likelihood of becoming distracted in the vehicle.
  • Recognise what makes you distracted. Many drivers sometimes carry out a distracting activity, without realising the extra risk that it causes. Eating or changing a song are examples of activities that drivers may do without thinking of the risks involved. Before engaging in an activity, ask yourself “will this be distracting?”. Think about how you would feel if you saw another road user doing the same thing – self-assessment is an important part of developing your driving.
  • Concentrate on your driving. This is easier said than done, especially in uninteresting environments. However, attention to thought can reduce the quality of the observations that you make. It may be difficult to stop yourself becoming distracted but if you find yourself engaged in thought or distracted by other means, then it is important to focus on your driving as soon as you realise. Make sure you are ready to drive before setting off on a journey. If you are about to drive after an emotional event, it is best to allow yourself time to cool down.
  • Use technology sensibly. In-vehicle technology can be distracting, especially if there are several systems in the same vehicle. Never put too many different devices in a vehicle. If you can change the settings on the technology, find ways of using it that is less distracting. Many mobile phones have ‘do not disturb’ modes for those who are driving, which usually include silencing notifications, so the driver does not hear the phone or receive notifications when they are driving and is not tempted to answer or look at it.
  • Plan your route in advance. All drivers dedicate a certain amount of time to navigating. This is unavoidable, but there are things you can do to reduce the time you spend navigating. By planning your route in advance and making sure you have a good idea of the directions, you may be able to reduce the time you spend looking for signs and road markings, and plan manoeuvres earlier.
  • Take refresher or further driver training. We all pick up bad habits over the years, several of which may be a result or cause of distraction. Refresher or further driver training can help drivers to build on the skills they have to prioritise events around a vehicle, predict hazards, and decide the safest course of action on the road.

Our free factsheet can be downloaded at: 

Becky Guy

Rebecca Guy is RoSPA's Senior Policy Manager and was formerly our Road Safety Manager, England.


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