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Most common driving distractions

Mar 17, 2021

As a young driver, you can probably still remember how hard you had to concentrate when you were first learning to drive. There’s lots to think about, from successfully operating the pedals to staying within the speed limit and avoiding other drivers.

While the mechanics of driving will eventually become second nature, you need to ensure you’re switched on at all times to avoid being involved in a road traffic incident.

With more vehicles on the road than ever, coupled with a greater number of distractions, the risks that come with driving are obvious. As such, you need to ensure you’re maintaining full concentration when you’re behind the wheel and not increasing your risk of an accident.

At Smartdriverclub Insurance, we understand that sometimes it can be tricky to maintain full concentration on the road. For our young driver insurance, we utilise telematics technology in the form of a Smartplug or black box to calculate a driver’s risk of being involved in an accident, based on their driving habits.

Good drivers can be rewarded in the form of a discount on their young driver insurance. If you like the sound of that, read on. We’ll explain more about the benefits of this type of insurance later in the article.

But first let’s look at some of the most common driving distractions – after all, awareness is the greatest agent for change, as they say. We’ll also highlight the potential consequences of being distracted at the wheel – as tragic as the outcomes can be, we believe they shouldn’t go unmentioned.

So, let’s take each of the most common driving distractions one by one.

While the mechanics of driving will eventually become second nature, you need to ensure you’re switched on at all times to avoid being involved in a road traffic incident.

A man driving witha woman sitting in the passenger seat holding a phone up to speak
Mobile phone use

Mobile phones are one of the most obvious distractions for a driver – especially a young driver who has never known a time without this handy device nearby. But it’s not just young people who might find their phone to be a distraction while driving.

Most people, on average, spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones, according to the RescueTime app. The top 20% of smartphone users have daily screen time in excess of 4.5 hours. The research also showed that, on average, people check their phones 58 times a day with 30 check-ins happening during working hours (9am–5pm).

Perhaps most interestingly, with driving in mind, half of all phone pickups happen within three minutes of a previous one. It’s not surprising really. Phones are constantly buzzing with notifications – it can take some real will power to hear that buzz and not check what it is straight away. However, when you’re driving, you simply can’t afford to.

Drivers who talk on phones, both hands-free and hand-held, are shown to be four times more likely to be involved in a crash resulting in injuries, according to road safety charity Brake. Studies have shown a correlation between phone use and culpability in crashes, it adds.

While using a phone behind the wheel often means taking your eyes off the road, the primary impairment that drivers face is the mental distraction from the driving task. Put simply, when you’re operating a smartphone, you’re not fully engaged in the road around you. On top of this, research has shown it can take half a minute to regain full attention after having put your phone down, during which time your driving is impaired.

So, it’s no great surprise that the laws on driving while using a mobile phone are quite strict – in fact, they’ve recently been updated to give police more powers to enforce it.

It can take some real will power to hear that buzz and not check what it is straight away. However, when you’re driving, you simply can’t afford to.

A man holding a mobile phone up to his ear while driving
What is the law on mobile phones and driving?

All drivers understand that it’s illegal to use a mobile phone to call or text while behind the wheel. It’s distracting, dangerous and can put people’s lives at risk – get caught, and you will face six penalty points and a £200 fine, notes the Gov.UK website.

In serious cases, drivers can also be banned from driving and receive a fine of up to £2,000.

If you’re a young driver – and have only passed your driving test in the last two years – falling foul of the law will see you lose your licence (six points within the first two years results in automatic disqualification).

Introduced back in 2003, the law around mobile phone use at the wheel came at a time when phones were used mostly for making calls and sending texts – it was not so common for a phone to have access to the internet.

The 2003 law prescribed that ‘interactive communication’ was prohibited while driving, which meant calls and texts. But, as phones advanced and users began using their devices to take pictures, record videos, select songs or scroll through social media, the technology quickly outpaced the law. Some drivers managed to get off without sanction before the law was updated to close this loophole.

As the Gov.UK website now states, people using a hand-held mobile phone in any circumstance while driving will be breaking the law.

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Roads Policing, has spelled out in no uncertain terms why a driver should think twice before picking up their phone at the wheel. “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever,” he said.

“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally.”

A hands-free device can be used lawfully, but police could still stop you if they deem that you’re not in control of your vehicle due to being distracted by the conversation.

Given the severity of the penalties and the damage that can be done from breaking the law, it’s crucial that you find ways to avoid being distracted by your phone. Here are a few tips on removing the distraction:

·       Stow your phone away in your glovebox – out of sight, out of mind.

·       Put your phone on airplane mode – this will effectively disconnect you from the world for the duration of your trip.

·       If you want to use your phone as a sat nav, invest in a good holder so you can follow the directions without having to pick up your device or have it in your lap.

·       Create another source of entertainment – listen to the radio or a podcast to take your mind off what’s happening on your phone.

·       If you think there’s a chance you might go to grab your phone during your journey, simply turn it off.

In serious cases, drivers can also be banned from driving and receive a fine of up to £2,000.

A man using his phone while driving him and a passenger on a motorway
Eating or drinking

In many ways, drivers are encouraged to eat and drink on the move – fast food outlets offer drive-through facilities and modern cars feature cup holders and even fridges. However, while it’s not actually illegal to eat and drink while driving, it still often proves to be a distraction. So, you need to be sensible if you get peckish while at the wheel.

If a police officer was to consider that you’re distracted while snacking while you’re on the move, they could prosecute you for careless driving – an offence which carries an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points.

That’s why you need to be careful what you choose to eat and drink should you feel the need to.

Better still, find somewhere to stop to ‘refuel’. It’s never a good idea to drive hungry or dehydrated as food and drink is fuel for the brain. In fact, researchers at Loughborough University found that driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink-driving. Dehydration can cause your focus to wain and lead to drowsiness and slower reaction times.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on keeping your energy levels up while on the road:

·       Make sure you’ve eaten a good meal and had a bit to drink before any long journeys.

·       Take a bottle of water with you to sip on throughout your journey.

·       Factor in places to stop for food or drink when planning a long drive.

If a police officer was to consider that you’re distracted while snacking while you’re on the move, they could prosecute you for careless driving.

A woman eating a donut while driving
Adjusting controls/sat nav

Every now and again as a driver you might need to adjust the vehicle controls. Perhaps you need to bring the temperature down on the air conditioning, demist the windscreen or check your infotainment screen (note: not your mobile phone).

These are all fairly rudimentary things to do while driving and completely within the law, of course – but you need to be careful they don’t take your eyes or mind off the road.

Remember, all it takes it one second to veer into another lane and you’re potentially involved in a serious accident.

If you intend to use a sat nav to get you from A to B, you’ll notice a warning message pop ups while you’re in transit to not enter details on the move. They are there for a reason – don’t ignore them. In fact, research by road safety charity IAM RoadSmart and Auto Express, the UK’s biggest-selling car magazine, suggests entering a postcode into a sat-nav app is the biggest distraction to drivers, worse even than sending a text message. So, think twice.

Here a few tips on minimising how often you need to adjust your vehicle controls:

·       If you’re using a sat nav, make sure it’s set up correctly before you even turn on your engine.

·       Make sure you demist your windscreen completely before pulling away.

·       Make a playlist that you’re happy with to avoid having to adjust your music.

The UK’s biggest-selling car magazine, suggests entering a postcode into a sat-nav app is the biggest distraction to drivers.

A satnav being used in a car
Reading directions

Even though the price of sat navs has come down significantly in recent years, some drivers still prefer to read directions from an old school map. Or perhaps it’s just because they don’t want to/can’t afford to spend the money on a sat nav. After all, driving is expensive enough as it is, especially for a young driver.

However, we’d argue that, despite sat navs bringing distraction dangers of their own, they’re well worth the investment.

Following written directions or reading a map while driving is one of the most distracting things you can do. There’s no way of doing without taking your eyes off the road, diverting your attention and distracting you both physically and mentally.

If you do find yourself having to read directions, consider the following:

·       Familiarise yourself with your route prior to making your journey.

·       If you have to re-divert for any reason, stop and take stock.

·       If someone else is in the car, ask them to act as a co-driver.

Other passengers

Road safety resource Road Wise spells out the dangers presented to young drivers: “As a young driver, for every mile you drive you’re four times more likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers. Having a car full of other young people significantly increases this risk.”

When you have passengers in the car, you can get wrapped up in conversation and not pay full attention to what’s going on around you on the road. You might be tempted to show off or, worse, engage in risky and illegal driving behaviours such as drug-driving, drink-driving and speeding.

So, when you’re going on a journey with other passengers in the car, bear in mind the following:

·       If you think your friends will prove a distraction to your driving, excuse yourself and go alone.

·       Tell your friends that you have a telematics insurance so you need to be on your best behaviour.

·       Turn the music off and concentrate on the journey ahead.

When you have passengers in the car, you can get wrapped up in conversation and not pay full attention to what’s going on around you.

A woman smiling as she drives with a passenger in the car.
Bringing down the cost of young driver insurance

The cost of young driver insurance can be steep. Black box or telematics insurance is a good option to consider if you want to bring down the cost of your insurance premiums in the first few years of driving.

Telematics insurance uses a black box device to record certain elements of the way you drive, such as how often you brake or accelerate rapidly, take corners sharply or drive late at night.

The device is plugged into your car and data is fed back to your insurer and to an app on your smartphone. You can track your performance, get tips on how to improve your driving and when it comes to renewing your policy, your insurer may reduce your premiums based on your proven record.

Why not contact Smartdriverclub for a young driver insurance quote today?