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2nd October 2013

Blog: Driving Distracted

As an exercise, an hour-long stop at a busy fuel station showed some interesting driver behavioural traits. They came in to re-fuel, both their car and themselves, some in a hurry, while others on a more laconic journey.

Those not engaged in the act of fuelling emerged from cars and made their way to the caffeine counter or the toilets, some with more urgency than others. Children were unleashed from their rear seats bonds, resulting in some towing their parents towards the wonder that lay within, while some broke ranks and made it to the emporium in a time that would have put Usain Bolt under pressure.

Alighting out of their cars, many brought their telephone conversation to the forecourt, their mobile now clamped between ear and shoulder as they dispensed motion lotion in ten euro increments, the signage prohibiting and advising invisible or disregarded – the mindset capable of both.

Getting back into their cars, many had gathered provisions for their onward journey, the variance based on palate, distance and time of day. Everything from the sliced pan to the jumbo breakfast roll, the bottle of Coke to the can of Red Bull, the still water to the paper cup of steaming coffee – all make their way to the drivers cockpit. And the phone is never far away.

Driving whilst distracted is an everyday hazard. It has always been there, but now it has taken on many new strands. What we have to do as drivers is realise that the demand something we do as innocent, has the potential to bring us into a serious conversation with a Judge at best, or an event with life-threatening consequences.

Distraction can be broken up into three types, Visual, Manual and Mental.

  • Visual distraction asks us to take our eyes off the road, away from our driving line.
  • Manual distraction is where we remove our hands from the steering wheel to do something
  • Mental distraction is where we have to concentrate hard on something other than the decisions of driving.

These three factors are present every time we use a mobile phone whilst driving. Mobile phones satisfy our need to be constantly contactable, to shorten the journey by conversing with a friend or to seal a deal en route to another executive meeting. Yep, we love to talk.

In all we do within our cars, there is no doubt that phone use causes the most concern. This is undoubtedly due to our national talent to natter, the proof of which is that according to EUROSTAT, (the European statistics-compiling body), findings back in May 2012, we have 119 mobile phone contracts per 100 people, one of the highest in the world.

It is held that the difference between handsfree and handheld, is that the former keeps both hands on the steering wheel. The amount of focus it takes to retain the conversation is the same with each and using terms like multi-tasking is simply erroneous. We may switch between one task and another, but we cannot do both complex tasks at the same time.

There is a very real risk of drivers miss-reading situations, simply because they are being over loaded with information, the result an undoubted increase in reaction time. The high cognitive and complex demand of driving whilst on the phone is evident when we look but don’t see and find ourselves driving into situations where we have no time to adequately access.

And drivers are not alone, as pedestrians on their phones behave equally unsafe, where they can fail to behave appropriately when crossing the road and show bad judgement towards road traffic prior to stepping onto the roadway.

Our obligation as drivers is not to endanger ourselves, the passengers in our vehicles and other road users. Companies and individuals will need to seriously look at the use of the phone while driving. Without question, the legislators are doing so as you read. Those with a steaming half-litre cup of coffee could be next!!

By Tony Tony, BeepBeep.ie Motoring Correspondent.

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