By Sergeant Areti Amaxari
Driver distraction is “the diversion of drivers’ attention away from activities that are considered critical for safe driving, towards another activity”.
Road safety authorities around the world rank driver distraction as a significant cause of road trauma alongside speeding, drink-driving and fatigue, while it is considered to be one of the major causes of road collisions and other road incidents.
Driver distraction is a multifaceted phenomenon, globally recognised as one of the most significant road safety concerns, since drivers fail to give adequate attention to driving during life-threatening moments as they are engaged in less important activities, such as eating or drinking, adjusting radio or CD player or using their mobile phones.
However, research indicates that there is still a lot to be clarified with regards to how distraction affects drivers and how it relates to other features of human cognition and behaviour (eg the driver’s perception of the situation).
Types & Causes of Driver Distraction
Even though many things can distract a driver, three types of distraction have been identified by researchers as affecting the performance of both adult and adolescent drivers: visual, cognitive and physical.
Particular attention is paid to cognitive distraction which ensues when drivers divert their attention from the basic task of driving to a less important action, thus missing possible risks. For example, being lost in thought or looking but not actually seeing are related to cognitive, auditory, biomechanical and potentially visual distractions.
The use of mobile phones, as a form of internal distraction is addressed broadly by research. Madden and Lenhart, in a study with more than 2,000 adults over the age of 18, found that approximately 75 per cent of the participants used a mobile while driving.
Additionally, a survey by White, Eiser & Harris concluded that the use of a phone was one of the prime hazardous distracters.
Similarly, Waugh, Wilson & Stimpson and the World Health Organisation showed that talking on the phone and texting to be significant problems worldwide during the last five to ten years. According to the evidence, the use of phones can affect the ability to drive in various ways, such as longer reaction times and not driving in the appropriate lane.
It thus reduces the driver’s performance and makes then four to 23 times more likely to cause an accident compared to not using a phone.
In adolescents, distraction and its potential effects are the result of relative driving inexperience and the tendency to adopt new in-vehicle technology.
Generally, adolescents tend to be easily distracted by situations such as the use of mobile phones and the presence of peers in the vehicle.
As adolescent drivers’ experience increases they are more likely to be involved in road collisions than older drivers due to their higher use of new technologies.
Besides, as young drivers acquire confidence, they usually underestimate the consequences of multitasking.
Generally, research evidence has shown that both young novice drivers and older drivers (55 years and over) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of driver distraction.
Young novice drivers are more vulnerable as they have not yet automated many driving tasks. Older drivers are more vulnerable to distraction since they have less attention to distribute to the different competing – tasks, they need more glances at mobile phones and other devices to read information, require more time to move their eyes between the road and displays inside the vehicle, and require more time to complete tasks, according to the Road Safety Council of Australia.
Some advice on how to manage driver distraction
Driving is a complex task that requires good coordination of corporeal, cognitive, sensory and psychomotor skills as well as a significant degree of attention and concentration of the driver. Thus, any activity that could draw a driver’s attention has the potential to reduce driving performance and have serious consequences for road safety.
Having that in mind, a few practices are given below, that could minimise driver distraction and the risk of a possible road collision:
– Ensure that all devices in vehicle have been adjusted before starting to drive
– Turn off cell phone while driving (even if there is a hands free cell phone)
– Pull over rather than eat or drink in vehicle or if you feel sleepy.
– Ask passengers to be quiet in vehicle if you cannot concentrate while driving.
– Recognise what could distract you when driving and try to avoid it while driving.
Sergeant Areti Amaxari BSc, MHSt, MSc Candidate is a prevention officer with Cyprus police traffic department
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