At a recent European Transport Safety Council conference a question was posed about whether driver distraction should be considered on a par with speeding, drink-driving and seat belt wearing traffic offences.
Road safety statistics suggest 9 out of 10 collisions are due to human errors, with the NHTSA (in the US) estimating that 25% of collisions are due to driver distraction. But what is distracting drivers behind the wheel and do these distractions affect everyone in the same way?
While there is much more research required in order to be able to definitely answer these questions, there is general consensus that driver distraction is a major transport safety issue, requiring serious transport policy and research attention.
It was suggested at this conference that a distracted driver is 4 times more likely to be involved in an accident behind the wheel. Mobile phones are not the only source of distraction behind the wheel either; eating, smoking or even changing a CD are but a few distractions which can remove a driver’s concentration from the road long enough to result in an accident.
But it is due to the ever increasing use of mobile phones to make calls, send text messages, take photos and use social media which have led to these concerns for driver distraction. Advertising campaigns play hypothetical – and sometimes even real – stories of the consequences of driver distraction through our televisions on a daily basis. Yet, drivers continue to take these risks.
But you use a hands-free devise?
Research presented at this conference suggested that the use of hands-free devices does little to improve driver concentration, although they did tend to prevent drivers from preforming other tasks which demand more of the driver’s concentration (for example texting or eating).
Until autonomy can be a safe and practical reality, driver distraction must be minimised. Are advertising campaigns alone capable of doing this? Are heavier penalties and stricter enforcement the answer? Or does this issue require the more drastic action of making vehicles mobile phone signal black-spots?