Research commissioned by esure car insurance showed that eating whilst driving reduces reaction speeds by up to 44% and sipping a drink can lead to a reduction of up to 22%. These slowed responses to hazards could lead to a serious and unnecessary accident.
Performing a secondary task is not only cognitively demanding, but also physically. To reach for or unwrap a food item, for example, drivers often have to take their eyes off the road and remove a hand from the steering wheel, compromising their control of the vehicle. Eating whilst driving can also lead to other distracting incidents such as spilling a hot coffee. Greasy hands or driving one-handed also means less control of the steering wheel and gear stick.
Though eating and drinking whilst driving are generally not illegal activities, drivers can be charged if a law enforcement officer believes they are not in control of their vehicle as a result of these behaviours.
Using on-board electronics and other accessories
Sat-nav systems have become increasingly popular with motorists; however as functionality and features advance, so can the level of distraction caused by these technologies. Many vehicles now have an advanced system built-in with various settings and features such as media, navigation and congestion warnings, meaning it can be easy to lose focus whilst driving.
Tuning the radio or changing CDs reduces your concentration and awareness. To be able to carry out such actions, drivers are likely to need to remove a hand from the wheel and take their eyes off the road. This lapse in focus could easily lead to hazards being missed, causing a serious accident. If settings need to be adjusted, the driver should only do so once parked in a safe place first.
Although many drivers use on-board media players, such as a radio or CD player, research from the RAC Foundation has suggested that listening to loud music can increase the time it takes to perform physical and mental tasks such as decision making, potentially leading to an accident. Loud music can also mean drivers are unaware of approaching vehicles or other hazards around them.
It is important to remember that one of the most dangerous and distracting behaviours is using a mobile phone whilst driving, whether hand-held or hands-free. This will be the focus of next month’s Road Safety article.
Safe Driving Tips
- Plan regular breaks to avoid having to eat or drink whilst driving.
- Set the features and settings such as heat/AC before travelling or ask a passenger to assist.
- If using a satellite navigation system, programme the route before starting your journey.
- Find a safe place to stop if you need to re-programme your route.
- Ask a passenger to assist with directions, or if driving alone, study the route prior to travelling to ensure you are familiar with it.
- Avoid distractions such as loud music or other on-board system functions.
- If you prefer to listen to music, listen to it on a low volume, ensuring you’re aware of other road users or hazards.