A woman presses a button on a car entertainment system while driving.
Work

Distracted driving - how to avoid the pitfalls

Distracted drivers can be a huge risk to the safety of themselves and others. Here are some tips on how to avoid getting distracted behind the wheel.

By Shell on Jul. 14, 2022

There was a time the greatest distraction drivers faced was deciding which cassette to put in the tape player, or whether to choose AM or FM on the radio.

These days there are many more things to steal your attention. High-tech features and infotainment systems essentially turn your dash into one giant smart phone, so it’s no surprise that driver distraction is becoming a safety issue.

In fact, Australian drivers are being distracted every 96 seconds by something other than driving their vehicles, according to a study conducted by Monash University.

It’s a deeply troubling statistic when you consider that taking your eyes off the road for a mere four or five seconds at 100km/h means your car has gone the length of a football field without your attention.

Tragically, distracted driving is responsible for as many as 30 per cent of fatal crashes and 45 per cent of serious-injury crashes each year in Australia. The state-by-state statistics equally alarming (one in every 10 road fatalities and at least 14 per cent of all crashes in NSW are due to distracted driving; an average of 29 people are killed and 1,284 seriously injured each year on Queensland roads for the same reasons).

Driving distractions can be broken down into the three categories: visual distractions, cognitive distractions and physical distractions. The good news is that whether you’re a professional driver or you manage a fleet, there are steps you can take to ensure the safety of you and your team. Here are some common distractions within each of those categories, and possible solutions.

Visual distractions:

This is anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, with mobile phones unsurprisingly being one of the main causes (drivers are four times more likely to crash when using a phone).

Problem: Mobile phones

Solution: Switching phones to ‘Do Not Disturb’

Although the advent of hands-free phones and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity has reduced the need to actually touch a phone while driving, mobile phones are still a leading cause of distraction while driving, with around 60 per cent of Australian drivers admitting to using a mobile phone that isn’t hands-free while driving (texting alone increases the risk of a crash or a near-crash by up to 15 times for car drivers, and over 20 times for truck drivers).

It’s also worth keeping in mind that touching a mobile phone, or even having it resting on your body, while driving, can result in big fines, so there’s a pretty sizeable financial risk involved, too.

Cognitive distractions:

This is essentially losing focus while driving, a form of “inattention blindness” that can be caused by anything from talking to someone in the car (the cause of 3.2 per cent of all casualty crashes), dealing with kids in the back seat, or even drifting off into a daydream.

Problem: Inattentiveness

Solution: Think about what distracts you and minimise those factors before driving.

If talking to someone else, whether they’re actually in the car or on the phone or listening to loud music or your favourite podcast typically causes your mind to drift a little too much while driving, it’s time to start thinking about whether or not it’s worth the risk (spoiler: it’s not).

If you’re prone to being easily distracted, consider what might give you extra focus, which could be anything from a coffee to driving in total silence, to taking more breaks from driving than you typically would.

Physical distractions:

This is any time you take your hands off the driving wheel: i.e. changing music on the stereo, picking up a mobile phone, or eating or drinking something while driving.

Problem: Taking your hands off the wheel to complete another task

Solution: Either complete the task before setting off on your journey, or do it during a driving break

These days we’re all relatively time poor, so the temptation to combine tasks is considerable. Some of the main offenders in this category are exactly what you’d expect (eating and drinking, putting on make-up, changing music on the stereo, smoking or vaping, adjusting things like seats and mirrors) to things you wouldn’t expect and sometimes can’t control (changing your clothes while driving, having an insect fly in the window, or a spider unexpectedly emerge from somewhere).

If you manage a fleet…

Consider implementing a distracted-driving policy for your company, which will help let your fleet drivers know what’s expected of them while out on the roads. While such a policy may be hard to police, discussing it at the very least sends a strong message that your company takes distracted driving seriously and considers it an important issue that’s worthy of close attention.

It might just save someone’s life.

Disclaimer

Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.