*Driver Distraction Equal to Speeding & Drink Driving?
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At the October European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) and Liikenneturva (the Finnish Road Safety Council) conference on distracted driving the question was raised as to 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 error and in 2010 the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 17% of all police reported crashes involved some type of driver distraction.
Information presented at the ETSC conference suggests that a distracted driver is four times more likely to be involved in an accident behind the wheel. Mobile phones are recognised as one of the top sources of distraction behind the wheel, in addition to eating, smoking and changing a CD.
The increasing use of mobile phones to make calls, send text messages, take photos and engage on social media have presented heightened concerns for driver distraction of late. Unfortunately, the use of hands-free devices does little to improve driver concentration. In fact, research from the University of Leeds has shown that hands-free conversations impair driving performance more than talking to other passengers, handling the radio and dashboard climate controls. However, talking on hands-free was found to offer some protective aspects, in that it interferes with the ability to undertake other risky activities such as eating or fiddling with the entertainment system. Nevertheless, the type of cognitive distraction that a hands-free mobile phone conversation produces has been shown to increase workload so that drivers will be impaired in high demand situations such as intersections and interactions with vulnerable road users.
What will it take to stop distracted driving? Publicity on the dangers of mobile phone use is generally ineffective and banning the use of mobile phones is only partly effective, without the capacity to strictly enforce bans. In this case technology may provide the solution via the blocking of risky activities and making vehicles mobile phone signal black-spots.