Distractions While Driving

Inattention while driving considerably increases the risk of car accidents so what are the common distractions when driving and how can you deal with them?

There are have been a number of reports into the issue of distractions while driving recently in an initiative to improve road safety and reduce fatalities on our roads. Both reports define distractions as tasks that require the driver to look away from the road ahead.


  • Allianz Center for Technology Report

The Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) took a closer look at the various forms of distraction behind the steering wheel, among drivers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. View full report here.


Key findings:

  • In 78% of crashes the person behind the wheel was preoccupied with other activities and inattention was at least partly responsible.


  • The New England Journal of Medicine Report

A report from The New England journal of Medicine found that “Distracted driving attributable to the performance of secondary tasks is a major cause of motor vehicle crashes both among teenagers who are novice drivers and among adults who are experienced drivers.” The report is key because it shows that it is not just new and inexperienced drivers that put themselves and others at risk when distracted at the wheel.

Key findings:

The following were associated with a significantly increased risk of a crash or near-crash among novice drivers:

  • Reaching for a phone, dialing and texting
  • Reaching for an object other than a phone
  • Looking at a roadside object
  • Eating

Among experienced drivers, only dialing a mobile phone was associated with an increased risk.


“Our findings indicate that secondary tasks requiring drivers to look away from the road ahead, such as dialing and texting, are significant risk factors for crashes and near-crashes, particularly among novice drivers.”


Distractions When Driving

When you are distracted you take your eyes of the road and may stray into other lanes or miss hazards. The chances of having a car accident increases significantly so what can you do to avoid getting distracted when driving and avoid a car accident. Many of the following are not illegal when driving but can lead to a driver being deemed as not taking due care and attention which is an offence. It is essential when driving that you become aware and react to hazards in the shortest time possible. Distractions slow down your reactions. Here are the main forms of distraction when driving:

Driving with a Mobile Phone

Mobile phones are a major distraction for drivers. The Think! Government website outlines the facts:

  • You are 4 times more likely to crash if you use a mobile phone while driving
  • Reaction times for drivers using a phone are around 50% slower than normal driving
  • Even experienced and careful drives can be distracted by a call or text – and a split-second lapse in concentration could result in a crash


Just reaching for a mobile phone can distract a driver for 4.6 seconds, enough time for a car to travel well over 100 metres.

Mobile Phones and the Law: Since the 27th February 2007, anyone caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving will be awarded three penalty points and a fine of £60, and if convicted in court, the maximum fine is £1,000 (£2,500 for drivers of vans, lorries, buses and coaches). You can use handfree kits legally if they allow you to take a call without picking up a handset.

Despite changes in the law, mobile phone use while driving is still relatively widespread and a major source of distraction. Worst still is that we’re not just talking about drivers receiving calls, but dialling, texting or even accessing the Internet while driving. It is inevitable that such activities significantly increase the risk of a crash or near crash. With the likes of Facebook and Twitter and other popular social media platforms sending alerts to your phone, people are faced with more temptations.

How to avoid car accidents:  The best option is to turn on your voicemail and switch your phone off. If you need to make or receive a phone call then pull over when it is safe to do so. You can use a hands-free device legally but this can still be a distraction. If you do opt for handsfree, tell the caller you are driving. If the conversation is going to be long or stressful then pull over and call them back.


iPod, MP3 Player, CD Player, Radio

For many people, it is important to have music or the radio on when driving. The processes associated with tuning a radio, changing a CD or MP3 player, adjusting the volume all pose a significant distraction. Changing a CD or iPod means that both hands aren’t on the wheel and your eyes are not on the road. Even once you’ve adjusted and sorted out your entertainment, loud music poses a distraction in itself.

How to avoid car accidents: Organise your music and radio before you set off. Tune into your preferred radio station, find the CDs you want, or create a playlist on your iPod or MP3 player or set it to Shuffle. Keep the volume at a reasonable level so it does not mask other sounds.

Driving with children, babies and toddlers

Many people find driving with children a bigger distraction than mobile phones. Your instinct is to talk to them, check on them in the rear-view mirror or even turn round to deal with them. But even a split-second of inattention can increase the risk of a crash.

Long journeys can be particularly stressful for young children as well as boring. When they become irritable, they demand your attention which poses a major distraction as your focus shifts to them and away from the road. It is essential to maintain your concentration on the road regardless of what your child is up to in the back.

How to avoid car accidents: The best scenario is to travel with another adult that can look after your child but we know this is not always possible. So taking regular breaks is a good idea. If possible arrange it so that these stops have a playground or somewhere where your child can let off steam. Make sure that your child has a mix of their favourite toys, games, books, puzzle or even a portable DVD players so that they can be mesmerised by their favourite TV shows or films. Tesco recommends making the backseat as comfortable space as possible with a few cushions and a favourite blanket. Easy-to-eat snacks to keep hunger in check as well as water/juice to keep them hydrated is a good idea. BabyCenter has a number of excellent tips on entertaining babies, toddlers, and older children in their Road Trip Survival Guide


Driving with Passengers

It may be great to have company on a long drive and to have a passenger to talk to but many people admit that this is one of the biggest distractions. Your instinct when conversing is to make eye contact and conversation can take both your mind and eyes away from the road. Also there is a risk that arguments can develop with a passenger that will increase the risk of a road crash considerably.

How to avoid car accidents: Encourage your passenger to adjust their behaviour in relation to the driving conditions and don’t be afraid of asking them to be quiet or to stop doing something that you find distracting. It is essential that you take control of your environment and be assertive to stop distractions. Passengers can also help minimise other distractions covered here, by looking after children, reading directions and organising music.


Eating and Drinking when Driving

Preparing to eat or drink, unscrewing the cap on a water bottle, opening a sandwich involves you taking a hand off the wheel and shifting some of your focus away from the road. The process of then eating a snack or sipping a coffee all involve you taking some of your attention from the road, putting you and others in danger. A study carried out by University of Leeds found the reaction times of drivers who indulged in a snack when driving were up to 44 per cent slower than usual and 22 per cent slower when drinking.

How to avoid car accidents: Eat before you travel and take breaks to eat on the journey when hungry. If necessary, prepare ready-to-eat snacks that can be consumed easily.


Smoking when Driving

Smoking features in the Highway Code as one of the distractions to be avoided when driving. There is heated debate around whether someone that has a nicotine craving is distracted from the road as much as they would be when actually smoking while driving. The fact remains that smoking limits your movement and slows your reaction times. You also have the additional issues associated with lighting a cigarette and putting it out. The panic caused by dropping a cigarette in a car is a major concern when smoking and driving.

How to avoid car accidents: Don’t smoke while driving, instead take a cigarette break as and when you need it.


Driving with Sat Nav

Sat navs are increasingly commonplace for motorists and are extremely useful but they can also pose a significant distraction when driving. They can force you to take your eyes off the road and to stop thinking directly about navigating the situation around you. They do not always work as you would expect either causing confusion. 

How to avoid car accidents: Make sure the sat nav is fully charged and complete with all the latest downloads and updates prior to setting off. Also, set the route prior to starting your journey and familiarise yourself with it. Ensure that the voice function is enabled so you can get instructions without taking time to study the screen. If you need to replot a course during your journey then pull over.

It’s not just Sat Navs that can be distracting when it comes to navigating. With maps and printed instructions take time to pull over. With printed directions make sure they are in large print so you can read them at a glance.


General Tips to Avoid Distractions When Driving

  • Reduce or cut out altogether the use of electronic devices such as mobile phones and sat navs.
  • Factor in more time for your journey. If you need to make a call or look for a new route, or eat then do so when you are not driving. It will take longer but you will be safer.
  • Keep both hands on the wheel and make sure that items likely to be used during a trip are already at hand before starting the engine.
  • Self-appraisal. Recognise what distracts you the most while driving and take steps to counteract this.


Other Resources on How to Avoid Car Accidents

For more information on how to avoid car accidents visit The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which includes this excellent PDF on avoiding distractions when driving or the Think! Website.


Car Accident Help from Loyalty Law

If you have been involved in an accident because the other driver was distracted and want to find out more about making a car accident claim then let our expert solicitors help. Call us now on 0800 142 2775 or fill out an online enquiry form here.

You can also visit our main ROAD ACCIDENT SECTION or WHIPLASH SECTION for more information.