Don’t do it – texting while behind the wheel is a big no-no.
There you are, driving down Auckland’s southern motorway in heavy traffic, and you notice the driver in front of you is chatting away to his front-seat passenger – and that every time he speaks, he takes his eyes off the road and looks at the passenger.
Or you are cruising up the Hutt motorway, and you spot a fellow driver using her rear-view mirror to apply lipstick. Someone else eating a hamburger. Alongside you a motorist reaching down to pick up an object from the floor of the vehicle.
Scary, huh? It’s called driver distraction, and it is a very serious road safety issue.
Statistics for 2014 show that driver distraction contributed to 1053 crashes, which resulted in 22 deaths, 191 serious injuries, and 1179 minor injuries. All because motorists had diverted their attention away from actually driving their vehicles.
So with that as background, and with the summer holiday season here, we’ve decided to prepare this list of five driver distraction actions that scare us.
1. Eating up the kilometres
Research in the United States has concluded that motorists who are eating food or drinking coffee while driving are increasing their risk of being involved in a crash by a massive 80 per cent. And yet 83 per cent of survey respondents admit to drinking coffee while driving, and 70 per cent say they eat while driving.
Coffee is regarded as the single most dangerous food item to attempt to consume while driving. Think about it – you either have to use one hand to hold the drink while driving, or distract yourself either putting the cup into a drinks holder or – even worse – trying to get it out again. And let’s not even think about what happens if you hit a bump and spill hot coffee on your lap.
Let’s not think about what can potentially happen when you’re eating something like a burger or a hot meat pie while driving, either. We’re reminded of the time one of our photographers tried to eat a pie while driving – some of the very hot meat oozed out and ran down his wrist, and he crashed through a fence and slid 100m across a paddock.
So if you need to eat or drink, how about stopping for five minutes, huh?
2. Talking up driver distraction
One of the pleasures of motoring is that the time in the vehicle can be spent enjoying great conversation with those aboard. But drivers – please don’t take your eyes off the road when it is your turn to talk.
We always seem to be noticing motorists who do exactly that. Just recently we followed one driver who even went so far as to turn around and face people in the back seats when he was talking. Talk about driver distraction!
The experts say there are four main types of distraction: visual, as in taking your eyes off the road; manual, as in taking your hands off the wheel; cognitive, as in taking your mind off driving; and auditory, as in being distracted by loud noises. The way we see it, a strong conversation in a car has the potential to involve three of those distractions.
So what’s the best advice? The experts strongly recommend the obvious – by all means converse, but keep your eyes on the road at all times, and if traffic gets really heavy, stop talking and concentrate on safe driving instead. Not only that, but research shows you can also rely on your passengers to help you negotiate your way through such situations.
3. Using a mobile while mobile
In New Zealand, it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone for talking or texting while driving a vehicle. But despite the risks, large numbers of motorists still do it.
Use of a phone, particularly for texting, is an extremely dangerous thing to do. The LTSA says that drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Why? Because sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, and that at 90kmh that’s the equivalent of driving the entire length of a rugby field blindfolded.
But we all see it happening – even do it – all the time, don’t we? It’s all a part of a modern society in which people demand to be connected to the world around them 100 per cent of the time.
So what to do? How about either turn off your phone when driving so you can concentrate on keeping safe all of the time, or make use of the hands-free devices that are now standard in most of our vehicles. But even then, be careful. Studies show that even hands-free conversation using a mobile device is a cognitive distraction in that it can easily take your mind off driving.
4. Making up while motoring
Rear-view mirrors are for checking what is happening behind your car, right? Certainly not for applying your eye makeup or lipstick, or for combing your hair, or shaving, while driving. Unfortunately, we see it happening all of the time, and quite frankly, it’s scary to watch.
Statistics show that the majority of fatal and serious injury crashes occur at peak morning and afternoon commuting times – that’s between 7am and 9am, and from 4pm and 6pm. Traffic is heaviest then because that is when most people are driving to and from work. They may be the periods, particularly the mornings, when people are most pushed for time and may need to finish getting makeup done on the way to or from work.
But the expert advice is this: Don’t do it. Just like it’s dangerous to drink coffee or text while driving, you can’t do things like apply lipstick and safely do the things you need to do when behind the steering wheel. Either get up earlier, or finish things off once you have parked your car.
5. Satellite navigating on the road
Satellite navigation is one of the outstanding motoring aids of the modern times – no more getting your passenger to pore over road maps, or even worse having to do it yourself, which is a very dangerous distraction. Instead, sat-nav can safely guide you to your destination, leaving you free to concentrate on your driving.
But please organise your route and set up your navigation before you begin your drive. It is unsafe to spend time punching in destination instructions while on the move. In fact, many of the new vehicles of today refuse to allow you to do that – instead, they require you to stop before accepting new orders.
And while we’re talking about navigating things, if you are changing radio stations or adjusting the volume of your entertainment system, please either get someone else to do it, or if they are available, use the thumb-operated controls on your steering wheel.