distracted-driverMobile Phones and Distracted Driving

How many of us are without mobile phones in this day and age. The ease of their use. The way we can put a person onto speaker phone when our hands are doing something else and the ability it gives us to facetime another person when we speak to them. Allowing us to see them also. Texting is a quick and simple way we can interact with our friends and family. Not to mention the multitude of Apps we can access to connect with others – from Twitter to Facebook, Snapchat to Instagram. All achieved within a few presses of a button.

What Is Distracted Driving?

A driver is distracted when they pay attention to a second activity while driving. People cannot always safely multi-task in this way, especially if the second activity is time consuming or complex.

The second activity puts extra demands on the driver, which may reduce his or her driving standard. For example, it may cause the driver to become less observant or to make worse decisions about how to control the vehicle safely. This lower standard of driving means that a driver is more likely to fail to anticipate hazards, and means accidents can occur due to the distraction.

In theory, there are as many potential causes of distraction as there are things to which drivers could pay attention. In reality, however, drivers tend to prioritise information so that they pay the most attention to information or activities needed for driving.

Distraction can be either driver initiated (where the driver starts carrying out a distracting activity) or non-driver initiated (the unpredictable actions of something or someone else).

Objects, events, or activities both inside and outside the vehicle can cause distraction. In-vehicle distractions can be caused by technology, or by other sources inside the car. Types of Driver Distraction

There are four types of driver distraction:

• Visual

• Cognitive

• Biomechanical

• Auditory

An activity can create multiple types of distraction – for example, using a hand held mobile phone while driving creates a biomechanical, auditory and cognitive distraction.

Visual distraction occurs when a driver sees objects or events and this impairs the driver’s observations of the road environment.

Concern about visual distraction is not new – when windscreen wipers were first introduced, there was concern over their potentially hypnotic effect.

The way that a driver observes the area around the vehicle depends on how complex it is, and in complex environments, drivers can find it more difficult to identify the main hazards.

In undemanding situations, driver’s attention tends to wander towards objects or scenery that are not part of the driving task. Estimates of how much time drivers spend doing this varies from between 20% and 50%

Cognitive distraction occurs when a driver is thinking about something not related to driving the vehicle.

Studies of driver’s eye fixations while performing a demanding cognitive task show that their visual field narrows both vertically and horizontally – meaning that rather than scanning the road environment for hazards and spends much more time staring ahead more than usual. In other words, tunnel vision.

This means that drivers who are cognitively impaired will spend less time checking mirrors or looking around for hazards.

Biomechanical distraction occurs when a driver is doing something physical that is not related to driving, for example, reaching for something and be out of the driving position, or holding an item.

Auditory distraction is caused when sounds prevent drivers from making the best use of their hearing, because their attention has been drawn to whatever caused the sound.

Effects of Distraction

Cognitive distraction causes drivers to look at their mirrors, instrument panel and what’s happening in the environment around them much less; instead they concentrate their observations straight ahead, and so are more likely to detect hazards later than they would otherwise have done.

Worryingly, distracted drivers underestimate the effects that distraction has on them, and do not perceive their reduced awareness or their ability to spot hazards. This may be because they are still looking at the road straight ahead and are not gathering the whole picture of the road around the vehicle.

Drivers who are distracted also have difficulty controlling their speed and their distance from the vehicle in front, and their lane position can vary drastically.

The more complex or involved a driver becomes with a distraction, the more detrimental the distraction is on their ability to make observations and control the vehicle safely.

Research has shown that drivers are more likely to accept a higher level of distraction if they judge the distracting activity relevant to the driving – say for example navigating.

Drivers distracted when using their mobile phone:

  • Can be less aware of what is happening on the road around them.
  • Can feel more stressed and frustrated.
  • React more slowly and take longer to brake.
  • Are more lightly to tailgate the vehicle in front.
  • May fail to maintain lane position and a steady speed.

Drivers who use their mobile phones whilst driving are mentally distracted, have  divided attention and are four times more likely to crash, injure, kill themselves or other people.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

What is the Law about using mobile phones when driving?

The Definition of Driving

Under existing law a person may be regarded as “driving” a vehicle while the engine is running and the vehicle is stationary. The offence applies to all motor vehicles, including motorcycles, but not apply to pedal cycles.

The Definition of a Hand-Held Mobile Phone

The Regulation includes any “device, other than a two-way radio, which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data”. It states that a “mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function”. “interactive communication function” includes:

(i) sending or receiving oral or written messages;

(ii) sending or receiving facsimile documents;

(iii) sending or receiving still or moving images; and

(iv) providing access to the internet

Simple Really. It is illegal to use a hand held devices or mobile phones when driving or riding a motorcycle.

! Did you also know it is illegal to use a mobile phone or any other hand held device when supervising a learner driver.

Penalties for using your phone while driving

You can get an automatic fixed penalty notice if you’re caught using a hand-held phone while driving or riding. You’ll get 3 penalty points on your licence and a fine of £100.

Your case could also go to court and you could be disqualified from driving or riding and get a maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.

New drivers

You’ll lose your licence if you get 6 or more penalty points within 2 years of passing your test.

When you can use a phone in your vehicle

If you’re the driver, you can only use your phone in a vehicle if you:

  • need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop
  • are safely parked

Using hands-free devices when driving

You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and 2-way radios when you’re driving or riding. But if the police think you’re distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised.

If you are caught offending you may be invited by the Police to attend a Driver Retraining Course. This may involve watching a video, then being invited to discuss what you have seen. There are reminders about the do’s and don’ts  – not just with hand held devices but reminders about becoming distracted with other things – such as eating a sandwich whilst driving and if pulling a trailer ensuring your follow the laws of the road.


Image source: Ed Poor / Wiki