We’re still getting bombarded with messages about the dangers of distracted driving, mostly the effect of texting, but there are other things that people do at the wheel that are also distracting, regardless of how much less attention they may require.
UK road safety charity and advocate IAM Roadsmart is making drivers aware of five other little things they don’t think much about, but can be distracting for even a split second, which in many cases is long enough for catastrophe to strike.
The obvious one is mobile devices. Granted you may have your texts automatically silenced while you’re driving, but what about the other features … setting a playlist, for example, or even taking a hands-free call. Or what about turning up the music when a favourite song comes on.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re trying to find a place in an unfamiliar area, you turn down the radio? Like that’s going to help you see the street names better! But actually, cutting out the noise sharpens your concentration, and it will also help you hear approaching emergency vehicles earlier.
Other forms of technology are equally distracting, even though they are more and more relied upon these days. Navigation systems, for example, often require the driver take eyes off the road to check the surroundings for gas stations, hotels or just a place to eat.
And with more and more apps making into a vehicle’s control centre, though improved connectivity, the touchscreen in the middle of the instrument panel is going to get more crowded with items that are meant to make driving easier, or more enjoyable, but will also require more attention.
And what about the controls for other often used items? Heating and ventilation systems are starting to resemble the thermostats in our living rooms, but they’re also just as attention-consuming to adjust. And with increase use of swipe and pinch hand controls, that’s going to require a whole different level of attention.
There’s a reason controls like turn signals, windshield wipers and even radio buttons have mostly remained consistent in the way they work and where they’re located — so drivers can get used to their location and function and quickly work them, but others like temperature controls and vent choices have never seemingly been regulated the same way, so take time to learn where controls are located and how to work them.
The other two items involve things we do in vehicles that maybe we shouldn’t be doing — smoking and consuming food or drink.
Smoking is becoming less prominent as more people give it up, but more, especially younger, people are replacing smoking with vaping. Consider the distraction of finding the ashtray to make sure you deposit ashes or embers in the proper place, and consider also the impact of smoke on your line of sight or if it accidentally gets in your eyes.
Think about the reaction you have when you spill food crumbs or dribble your drink? You don’t just shrug it off. You want to mop it up as quickly as possible. Also, when your hand is on a cup or holding a burger, it’s not on the steering wheel, where it should be to ensure you have proper control of your vehicle, especially in an emergency situation that could cause you to drop your coffee cup.
“Driving safely requires total concentration, try to minimise any distractions that may affect this,” says Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards. “If you do need to make a telephone call or make adjustments to the settings of the vehicle, find somewhere to pull over safely and do it at your leisure. Being distracted can lead to errors in your judgement and may result in a collision. Why take the chance?”