How to avoid distractions while driving

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It is important to stay alert at all times and to act with extreme caution when climbing behind the steering wheel of a vehicle. Not only does the driver have to avoid distractions, but passengers have to ensure that they are not the cause of such distractions.

To test your concentration as the driver you need to answer the following questions:

  • Are you always prepared to avoid a car swerving in front of you?
  • Can you brake for a pedestrian who suddenly steps into your path?
  • Can you steer safely clear of debris falling from a truck?

Types of driver distractions posing a risk to road safety

1. Physical distractions

Physical distractions are actions that the driver might perform, as well as the actions of the passengers or technology in the car. It also includes distractions outside the vehicle that could divert the attention of the driver away from safely driving the vehicle.

The most common physical distractions include:

  • Roadside activities such as accidents or vehicles stopped by police/traffic officers
  • Looking around at outdoor advertising, construction sites, etc.
  • Reading maps or newspapers
  • Personal grooming such as shaving, applying lipstick or mascara, combing or brushing hair
  • Eating or drinking beverages, and smoking
  • Changing clothing
  • Looking for lost or fallen items
  • Flying insects
  • Talking on cellular telephones
  • Checking for text messages
  • Tuning the stereo
  • Conversing with adult passengers
  • Tending to small children and infants

2. Mental and emotional distractions

Mental and emotional distractions may cause a driver to be more aggressive and less tolerant of other drivers. They might also become less attentive towards environmental conditions and hazards on the road.

It is important to stay alert at all times and to act with extreme caution when climbing behind the steering wheel of a vehicle.

The most common distractions include:

  • Strong emotions of anger and grief
  • Driver fatigue or drowsiness
  • Arguments and emotional conversations may lead to further distracting your attention

10 ways to avoid distractions while driving

  • Stay focused and alert at all times.
  • Practise short, quick glances and avoid prolonged staring.
  • Never read while driving – rather pull off the road to read.
  • Do not attempt to change or pull off clothing while driving, and conduct personal grooming before leaving or after reaching your destination.
  • Do not allow passengers to interfere with your concentration.
  • Make sure children and pets are properly restrained before you start driving, and give children items to occupy themselves.
  • Use pet carriers or portable kennels to restrict the ability of animals to roam around in the vehicle.
  • Pull over and stop if small children require attention that could divert your concentration from the road.
  • Avoid eating and drinking while driving. Fumbling with napkins, wrappers and beverages means you’re not watching the road.
  • Plan your trip in advance and allow yourself time to stop and have a bit to eat.

3. Distractions caused by cellular phones and technology

There is growing concern about the dangers of using cellular phones while driving. An international survey of 837 drivers with cell phones found that almost half swerved or drifted into another lane, 23% had tailgated, 21% cut someone off and 18% nearly hit another vehicle while using the phone.

Best advice is to avoid using cellular phones when driving

  • When the phone rings, let it ring! It’s better to use your phone’s voicemail or even miss a call than to put yourself, your passengers or others at risk.
  • Use hands-free sets.
  • If you have to make a call on a hands-free cellular phone, ask a passenger to dial or answer the phone for you (unless you have voice activation).
  • Keep your calls brief.
  • If you expect such a call to last longer than a few seconds, be on the lookout for a suitable spot to pull over.
  • Never take notes or jot down numbers while driving.
  • When in heavy traffic, rather tell the person you will call back when it is safe to do so.
  • Ask your passenger to adjust the radio or climate controls for you.
  • With more complex devices such as GPS/navigation systems, take the time to stop in a safe place before giving them your attention.

Also read:

Packing the vehicle safely for your holiday road trip
What to do when you’re driving in bad weather