Worrying extent of in-car distractions


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– Annual Report on Motoring identifies the worrying extent of in-car distractions

Over a third (39%) of UK motorists become seriously distracted when
driving, according to the 2009 RAC Report on Motoring(1). Young drivers (17
to 24 year olds) are the most likely to lose concentration behind the wheel
with over half (55%) confessing that they become ‘seriously

Remarkably, one in five young motorists said they drive while listening to
music through headphones, and 16% even admitted to putting on make-up
behind the steering wheel. Although over a quarter (26%) of drivers between
the ages of 17-24 admitted to texting while on the road, just 3% of the
same group actually considered this behaviour acceptable.

Motorists were also asked which of their in-car gadgets and technologies
they found to be most distracting, the top five were:

1.    In-car music/changing CD and radio controls (57%)
2.    Sat-Nav systems (41%)
3.    Mobile phones (32%)
4.    Air-con controls (31%)
5.    Dashboard warning lights (21%)

The research also looked at the impact in-car distractions can have on
driving performance and the potentially fatal distances that vehicles can
travel when motorists avert their eyes from the road for just a few

The diagram above illustrates the distance a car can travel when engaging
in common in-car activities such as re-programming a Sat-Nav device(2).

For example, during the five seconds it takes to change a CD when driving
at 70mph, a car will have travelled the length of nearly two football
pitches (156m) with the driver largely unaware of their surroundings and
the behaviour of other road users.

When you add this to the typical stopping distance of 96 metres(3), it
could even be as far as 252 metres (almost the length of three football
pitches) before the driver is able to bring the vehicle to a complete

In response to the findings, David Bizley, RAC director of technical said:
“This clearly shows that in-car distractions continue to be a significant
road safety issue, especially for the new generation of drivers. While
in-car gadgets do make journeys easier and more entertaining it’s
important that they are used appropriately. Even a split second distraction
can have potentially disastrous consequences.   

“Legislation to limit certain distractions is in place, but it’s
evident that many of the Government’s messages are not getting through to
motorists. The number of fatalities as a result of in vehicle distractions
has increased 50% over the last three years(4). You only have to consider
the number of motorists that continue to text and drive to see that greater
awareness of how to use in car-technology responsibly is needed.” 

To tackle the issue of in-car distractions, RAC is calling for the focus of
safety campaigns to be widened to include all potential in-car
distractions, such as adjusting the radio or heating and air-conditioning
controls as well as the dangers of using mobile phones.   

Further distraction statistics

•    More than one in three (35%) drivers over 24 admit to becoming
seriously distracted behind the wheel

•    79% of motorists over 65 say they never become seriously distracted
by using in-car instruments, equipment or other gadgets while driving

•    The region most easily distracted is the South West, with 45% of
motorists often losing concentration while behind the wheel

•    The region with the greatest focus is Yorkshire, where this figure
drops to just 32%

•    Londoners (55%) are the most likely to be distracted by their
mobile phone. Scottish    drivers (22%) are the least likely

RAC tips on how to focus on the road

1.    Get everything ready before you set off – select your favourite CD
or radio station, adjust your seat, check your mirrors, set the
temperature, and programme the Sat-Nav before you even release the

2.    Familiarise yourself with your car instruction manual so you can
recognise the dashboard warning lights. This way you’ll know which
require urgent attention, and which you can ignore until you reach a
suitable place to stop.

3.    Put your phone on silent, or even better turn it off while you are
driving. That way you won’t be distracted by incoming calls and text

4.    If you need to have your phone on then either use a hands-free
device or pull over to a safe place to make or receive calls.

5.    If you are using a Sat-Nav and need to make a change to your
journey, pull over in a safe place before reprogramming.

6.    If your passengers are distracting you, remember you’re the one
in the driving seat so you’re the boss. It’s fine to ask them to sit
still or keep the noise down.

7.    However, your passengers can also help you out by doing those
simple things such as changing the CD or adjusting the temperature.