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How to beat driving distractions

A driver selects an option on the car computer.

Controlling a car requires a driver's undivided attention. The driver's seat is no place for multi-tasking; and in fact, focusing on a second activity while driving can be extremely dangerous. You become less observant of what's around you, which will affect your driving standard and ability to spot potential hazards.

Types of distractions

From mobile phones and screaming children to tailgaters and talkative passengers, there are plenty of possible driving distractions. They can either be driver-initiated, where the person driving causes the distraction, or non-driver initiated, where it's caused by someone or something else.

Breaking it down further, there are four types of driver distraction. A distraction activity could fall under one, or several of the following categories:

  • Visual — When the driver sees something that takes their attention away from the road.
  • Cognitive — When the driver starts to think about something that's unrelated to driving, i.e., what to have for tea.
  • Biochemical — When the driver does something unrelated to driving, for instance, changing music on the stereo.
  • Auditory — When the driver is distracted by something they hear, either inside or outside of the car.

The law

If you get distracted at the wheel, you could be charged for a range of offences depending on the nature of your case. These offences include dangerous driving, failure to be in proper control of the vehicle, driving without due care and attention, and careless and inconsiderate driving.

Mobile phone use

The use of mobile phones in cars has become a major safety concern among motorists. The RAC's Report on Motoring 2016 reveals a notable increase in the number of drivers risking their safety — as well as the safety of their passengers and other road users — by using their phones at the wheel. A total 31% of the 1,714 drivers polled admitted to using their phone over the past year; a significant jump from the 8% recorded in 2014.

Get caught using your phone at the wheel and you'll receive three penalty points on your licence, plus a £100 fine. Depending on the severity of your case, you could go to court, be disqualified from driving, and get a maximum fine of £1,000. This is due to increase in 2017 to six penalty points. If you've passed your test within two years, six points can get your licence revoked.

How to avoid distractions

With so much going on around you when you're on the road, some distractions will be unavoidable. But here are some tips on how you can stay focused and limit distractions as much as possible:

Put it away
If your mobile phone is on show, it can still distract you even when you're not using it. For instance, if it starts to ring, flash or light up because someone's calling you. The best thing to do is to store it out of sight for the duration of the trip, and put it on silent so you don't get distracted by any noise.
Set it up
Get organised before you leave, so you won't need to multi-task en route. For example, if you need to use your sat nav, plug in the address before you get going.
Don't eat or drink
It's not illegal to eat or drink behind the wheel, but guzzling coffee or crunching an apple on-the-go can cause you to lose focus. Plus, you could be prosecuted for careless driving if the police have reason to believe you weren't in proper control of the car. So, eat at home or wait until you get to your destination.
Switch it off
Most drivers listen to music while driving, but too much noise can be distracting. At times when you really need to focus, for instance, when you're driving in poor weather conditions or are trying to follow the sat nav, then it may be best to switch the stereo off. Who knows, you might find the silence rather peaceful.
Get to grips
New cars take some getting used to but you shouldn't be prodding buttons to find out what they do while driving. If the car has lots of unfamiliar-looking controls, take some time to have a good read through the manual.
Ask your passenger
Your hands are on the wheel, but your passenger's hands are free. Ask them to help you out if you need some directions or want to change the radio station.

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