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Driver Distraction a Huge Unrecognised Danger

Media Release 30 April 2004

Driver Distraction a Huge Unrecognised Danger

Surprising new results from a recent Automobile Association member survey show that half the drivers on the road have had a near miss as a result of “distraction or loss of concentration”.

“It certainly was a surprise that, in members’ actual experiences of near misses, distraction and loss of concentration featured so strongly,” said George Fairbairn, AA Public Affairs Director. It was two to ten times more prevalent than other driver risk factors, including well-publicised factors such as speed, alcohol, and fatigue

An expert on driver distraction, Dr Michael Regan of Monash University, reinforced this message at the AA Driver Education Foundation conference earlier this week. His research showed that driver distractions were a major unrecognised cause of crashes, and he considered that drivers need to be better informed about the risks and how to manage them.

Dr Regan said that using a cellphone increases your crash risk by a factor of four or more. Texting was worse, because it takes a person’s eyes off the road and a physical coordination task that conflicts with driving. This reinforces earlier Association surveys that show 85% of drivers are concerned about seeing another driver using a cellphone, and 77% support a ban on handheld cellphones (even though most of them own a cellphone themselves).

Texting, dialling and holding cellphones create both visual and physical distractions, but drivers have to recognise that any conversation, even on a handsfree phone or with passengers, also distracts the driver mentally. Research shows that, when your mind is elsewhere, even though your eyes physically register a hazard, such as a pedestrian stepping onto the road, you do not react – you literally do not ‘see’ the person.

“We all need to learn to recognise the signs of being mentally distracted when driving. Anything that takes your mind off what you are doing is a distraction that will affect your driving ability, whether it is reading a billboard, controlling the kids in the back, or thinking about some unrelated problem”, said Mr Fairbairn.

“The short message is, when you are driving you need to be alert, calm and focussed. Like the pilot of an aeroplane, when you are behind the wheel you are responsible for your own and others’ safety. Keep your mind on what you are doing, your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and be listening for traffic cues,” said Mr Fairbairn.


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