Friday, April 19, 2013

A new survey has revealed that four out of the 10 top driving distractions that could cause motorists to have an accident are related to using a mobile device at the wheel. Another study lists the use of handheld devices, such as a cellphone, as the number one driver distraction.

The first survey, conducted by UK-based website, showed that although eating and drinking at the wheel remains the biggest distraction for drivers, SMSing, speaking, updating Facebook and sending tweets on a mobile device while driving are among the top ten most common dangerous distractions for many motorists.

In the other study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US, using mobile devices trumped all other potential distractions including talking to passengers, tinkering with dashboard controls, eating, smoking, and applying make-up, amongst others.

What’s more, according to a survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in the US, motorists who use cellphones while driving are more likely to engage in additional dangerous behaviours such as speeding, driving drowsy and driving without a seatbelt.

In South Africa, the Automobile Association recently counted 2500 cars during a morning rush hour to find that 7.2% of the drivers were on their phones.

“We are definitely seeing a rise in the number of claims relating to car accidents where the use of a cellphone is a factor. That is why we have partnered with Parrot to offer hands free kits at a reduced rate,” says Bradley Du Chenne, Senior Executive of Dial Direct Insurance.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation says that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into accidents serious enough to injure themselves. Using a cellphone while driving is also considered six times more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Du Chenne lists the reasons why:

“Firstly, when you have a phone poised in front of your eyes, you are not watching the road before you. Your eyes are cast down at the screen, off the road, and you are blissfully unaware of what is happening around you while you concentrate on your phone.

“Secondly, when you are holding your phone to SMS or conduct a call, it means at least one of your hands is not on the steering wheel. Your ability to steer your car, turn corners and react to obstacles, road signs or other cars on the road is dangerously impaired. Studies have shown that driver reaction times are compromised when they use a phone while driving. This includes driving slower than normal, driving haphazardly, and taking too long to brake.

“Thirdly, it is distracting. Whether you are on a call or sending a SMS, you are distracted by the conversation which means your mind is not on driving safely. A Carnegie Mellon University Study found that merely listening to somebody speak on a phone causes a 37% drop in activity in the parietal lobe where spatial tasks are managed,” he says.

Du Chenne says drivers should turn off all alerts on their phones when they get into the car to remove the temptation of opening, reading and responding to text messages, emails and notifications from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. “

Avoid making phone calls while you are driving and if you must, use a hands-free kit or pull-over somewhere safe, like a petrol station, to make the call. Unless you have a hands-free kit, do not answer calls either. Ideally, you should put your phone out of view and ear shot whenever you are behind the wheel of your car,” says Du Chenne.

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