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Distracted driving – what to do about it

In 2016, nearly three times as many men than women died in crashes on NSW roads. It’s a terrible statistic considering it is usually twice as many men who die. It is worse considering the efforts made to reduce distracted driving to bring the road toll down.

Compared to 2015:

  • 19% more men died in fatal crashes
  • 11% fewer women died in fatal crashes
  • 10% more people (384) died in fatal crashes in NSW.

The big question is why?

NSW Centre for Road Safety statistics show the fatal effects of speed, fatigue and alcohol.

For example, one in eight fatal crashes in NSW are because of drink driving. About 59 people lost their lives on NSW roads in 2016 because of alcohol, up from a low of 45 in 2015.  The biggest factor is speed, which caused 40% of crashes. Fatigue is blamed for 20% of crashes.

But there could be another factor in the road toll, which can’t be measured.

Why is the road toll going up?

We know mobile phones are a huge distraction to drivers and there are already strong penalties in place. But we do not, and cannot, measure distraction in general.

There are many distractions inside and outside a moving vehicle.

Inside are mobile phones, satnavs, infotainment systems, noisy children, arguments, rock music, strong smells and even the taste of chocolate – all of which have been shown to provoke some kind of emotional response.

Outside the vehicle are other distractions, such as roadworks, sudden loud noises, quickly changing weather, angry drivers, static and flashing road signs, advertising billboards, and accidents.

Our emotional state counts

Emotional state may have a lot to do with the way people drive, but we may not notice it. A study by Aviva (a UK insurance company) with UK motorists found:

  • Only 7% think their emotional state has the most negative effect on how they drive
  • 92% admitted to getting angry towards other motorists – the most frequent emotion
  • Only 1% said getting excited would affect their driving
  • None said happiness and joy would be unsafe.

Yet there is evidence from another UK study to suggest emotional state has a huge influence on the way we drive and this means more than just getting angry. Even being happy can cause you to drive in a riskier way.

How many people do you know who, when they’re upset about something, get in the car and go for a drive?

Boredom is a distraction

If aggressive or upset drivers are dangerous, consider also the potential hazards of bored drivers.

Bored drivers are shown to be more likely to take risks to make their experience more exciting, which means they have one and a half times more accidents than other drivers. The study found bored drivers are more likely to be young or inexperienced drivers. But people of any age can be bored.

Driving is relatively easy and undemanding now in vehicles that are programmed to do all the driving work and many include passive safety features. People are mostly travelling at very slow speeds around cities and suburbs. There is plenty of time and energy for using mobile phones, GPS, audio books or eating a bar of chocolate.

The death rate on the road is lower in Germany and the UK, even though there are more people travelling at high speeds on motorways. Perhaps they have less opportunity to be bored.

What can we do about it?

Many people claim putting more police on the roads will help bring down the road toll. However, more policing would make no difference to the quantity or quality of distractions inside and outside vehicles.

Others claim it is better to offer driver education to frequent offenders, rather than just dish out fines and demerit points. If driver education were to address all forms of distraction as well as the alcohol-fatigue-speed trio, it might go some way to bringing the road toll down.

Ask questions

It has become increasingly common to put up huge, high resolution advertising billboards across main roads. If this type of advertising is productive, then surely there are thousands of motorists who are distracted by them daily? These types of distractions for drivers are not addressed and continually encouraged.

If men are more likely to die on the roads than women, does that mean they are more likely to be distracted? Are there other types of distraction that the authorities are still ignoring? These are all questions worth asking the next time you think about the road toll.

Green slips are more expensive with demerit points or certain traffic offences. Drive with care.

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