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Distracted Driving – a Major Cause of Road Accidents

Safety - 20 May 2019

A split second is all it takes for an accident to happen. Keeping your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your mind on your driving remain the most basic and crucial rules of the road – for your safety and that of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

According to the 2018 International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Annual Road Safety Report, South Africa has one of the highest road crash rates in the world, with distraction cited as an increasing problem for road safety. 

South Africa’s Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), in its February 2016 report, had already shown that Inattentive and Distracted Driving has become a major problem and one of the leading causes of single vehicle road crashes among young people. Those aged 18 to 24 are twice as likely to be involved in a singular vehicle crash as those in the 25 to 49 year age group.

Types of distractions while driving

Types of distractions while driving: Visual, Manual, Cognitive

The most common distraction is looking at, talking to or listening to a passenger. Other distractions are using electronic devices (including with hands-free/Bluetooth devices), grooming, eating, smoking, and sound from music or navigation devices, along with other person- or object-related distractions.

The three main types of distractions are cognitive, visual and manual.

Cognitive distractions are those that take a driver’s mind off his or her driving to focus on other things like conversations, music, emotional distress from a recent experience, and more.

Visual distractions occur when a driver looks at something other than the road ahead. Adjusting car mirrors, consulting a GPS, and applying makeup are all prime examples of visual distractions.

Manual distractions mean the driver takes his or her hands off the wheel to fiddle with something such as food and drinks, lighting a cigarette, adjusting the radio, or reaching for items in the glove-box, thus impairing their ability to drive the vehicle.

Some distracted driving statistics

Recent studies by the Transport Research Laboratory of London and the University of Utah suggest that distracted driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving. Their studies discovered that distracted driving:

  • Slows a driver’s reaction time by 35%.
  • Impairs a driver’s ability to hold distance and lanes by 91%.
  • Slows a driver’s time to resume normal speed by 24%.
  • Slows a driver’s braking time by 9%.

In April 2016, South African vehicle tracking company Matrix released the results of their own distracted driving survey carried out amongst over 400 respondents, of which:

  • 52%  change or search for a radio station
  • 32% eat and drink
  • 22% text, call or check social media

Technology and risk-taking

Hot on the heels of passenger interaction comes the mobile phone. Having changed the way we live and work for the better, mobile phones can also change lives for the worse. Often, common sense and better judgement do not prevail under the irresistible temptation of the incoming or outgoing call or text message, social media updates and everything else we do with our phones. And that makes our mobile phone equal to a deadly weapon when we’re behind the wheel.

Many new cars now come with integrated voice-activated phone, navigation and music controls. However, these still create a distraction which can slow down your reaction times, leading to car accidents.

What is the Law in South Africa on using a mobile phone while driving?

Regulation 308A of the South African National Road Traffic Act states that no driver is permitted to use a hand-held communication device while driving, (even while stationary). This includes a cell phone, microphone, or other communication devices.

You may use your device only if it is not being held in your hand or with any other part of your body (such as under your chin). Drivers caught using a mobile or other handheld device while driving face a fine and even confiscation of the device. And while hands-free kits are allowed, they are not advised.

What about earphones?

There is no law specifically prohibiting the use of earphones while driving, however it is considered dangerous because you may not be able to hear warning signals such as hooting, sirens, or engine problems.

Eating, drinking, smoking

While there are laws in place to prohibit drinking alcohol and driving, there is no law against people smoking, snacking, or drinking other beverages at the wheel. Yet these can double your chances of crashing. Just think about what would happen if you spilt hot coffee onto your lap while driving.

How to avoid distractions

Distracted behaviour behind the wheel seems to have become acceptable and it is now urgent that correct and normal driving habits are reinstated. Many drivers know what they’re doing is risky, but believe they’re better drivers than others and so continue to drive in potentially dangerous ways.

Correcting human behaviour in order to prevent fatal car crashes starts with education and enforcing the rules of the road.

  • Stay focused and alert at all times
  • Practise short quick glances and avoid prolonged staring
  • Do not allow passengers to interfere with your concentration
  • Leave personal grooming out of the car
  • Make sure children and pets are properly restrained before you start driving – and give children items to occupy themselves
  • Use pet carriers or portable kennels to keep animals from roaming around in the vehicle
  • Find a safe spot, pull over, and stop:
    • to make or answer an urgent call or text message
    • if small children require attention
    • to read a map
    • to change or pull off clothing
  • Plan your trip in advance and allow yourself time to stop and have a bite to eat

Supa Quick is passionate about keeping you and your family safe on the road. Find a store close to you and visit us for a free safety check.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational, informational and entertainment purposes only. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information on this site is at your own risk. We will not be liable for any losses and damages in connection with the content on this site.

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