Whether you’re trying to eat a Big Mac or fighting with a set of tangled earphones, there is no greater example of human error in action than the distracted driver. The biggest culprit, of course, is your smartphone. It’s a seven-car pile-up waiting to happen.
Fiddling with your phone while driving is considered the leading cause of road accidents and collisions in South Africa, with up to 75% of motorists openly admitting to using their phone while driving.
Spend a little time on the autobahn that is the N1 highway and you’ll know – people drive a lot faster than they should be, and most of them aren’t even looking up.
Of course, this isn’t the only form of distraction. Today we’re going to take a look at the top causes of distraction and how to keep your attention on the road.
Operating a motor vehicle becomes easy after a while – experienced motorists forget that they’re actually performing a multitude of demanding tasks all at once. You’ve got to be hyper-vigilant, scanning your surroundings for any obstacles and threats, while at the same time listening to your rev count, checking your blind spots, watching other drivers, staying in your lane, paying attention to road signs and regulating your speed.
Most of us can do this while holding some semblance of a conversation, but when things get a little too heated and emotions are fired up; we’re essentially diverting our attention away from driving.
One of the biggest disruptions, infrequently spoken about, is in-car fighting or bickering. Couples often fight in cars, for a multitude of reasons, and this can lead to an agitated driver losing focus on the task at hand.
Arguments over speeding are usually the top cause of fighting, followed by the driver braking too hard or too often. Partners criticise one another’s driving all the time, because everybody thinks they’re the best driver on the road, and apparently they’ve never ever missed an important turnoff or taken a speed bump too hard.
Other popular irritations include when the person at the wheel is driving too slowly, exhibits poor lane discipline or tailgates down the highway. As the old saying goes;
Surprisingly – and according to a poll run by UK-based Buy A Car – backseat driving is far more common in couples over the age of 55.
Either way, the last thing we need is some kind of running commentary on what a bad job we’re doing.
Some of the most dangerous distractions are those that don’t have an off switch.
According to the AA, less than 10% of South African families use child car seats. Not only is that incredibly disturbing, but it’s also completely illegal. No matter how well-behaved your children are – it is required by law that they be transported in the appropriate harness.
This is because children are notorious for being the worst passengers imaginable. They scream and cry and whine and unbuckle their own safety belts and try to open doors and jump up and down on seats, etc. Awful. And now they have car sickness. And now they’re asking if we’re there yet, over and over again. They’re taking up your entire rear-view mirror, fighting with their sibling.
Dogs aren’t that much better when left to their own devices. Like children, they don’t care too much that you’re busy operating a huge piece of machinery, hurtling down a concrete highway, and will jump up on you, lick you and dart from the front seat to the back seat every five seconds.
And then, finally, we all know that one person who likes to break out the hilarious video clips and memes while you’re trying to watch the road. They hold their phone up for you to look. Look here, watch this great cat video. Look here. And then you crash.
The solutions for these may hurt some feelings – but they’re pretty simple. A driver’s top priority is to drive safely at all times. If this means having to ask somebody to quiet down a bit then that’s what you need to do. When faced with a particularly tricky situation, the best course of action is to pull over to the side of the road and then deal with it. Keep your children busy with snacks, games or colouring books – and as mentioned above, restraints go a long way.
One of the most important things to remember is that if something is distracting you from driving, the chances are pretty good that the same thing is distracting other drivers around you. People could be daydreaming, staring at an eye-catching billboard, rummaging around beneath their seat for a lighter, trying to get a bee out of their car or gawking at a roadside accident. So, in short, you need to stay alert at all times.
Here are some more of the most common forms of distraction while driving.