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What are drivers really thinking behind the wheel?

calendar Published on: Wednesday, 21st November 2018 | male icon Author: Kevin Thorpe

Given the dangers associated with driving, we’d all like to think we pay full attention when we’re behind the wheel. New research from the AA however suggests that in reality, many of us tend to let our minds wander when we’re in the driving seat. From worries about money to planning their next meal, motorists across the UK are thinking about of host of issues rather than focusing solely on the task of getting from A to B.

What do the stats reveal?

A recent poll of over 16,000 AA members found that fewer than one in three drivers (30 per cent) only think about driving when they are in their cars. The figure was even lower among young motorists. Just 14 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds said they focus solely on driving while behind the wheel, and even fewer 25 to 34-year-olds (11 per cent) paid full attention to controlling their cars.

In contrast, the over-65s were found to be the best when it comes to keeping their concentration. Nearly half (45 per cent) of people in this age group said they only think about driving and navigation when they’re on the roads.

The top distractions among drivers were identified as worrying about arriving on time, thinking about work and planning for the future. Money, life admin, socialising, relationships and meal planning were also high up in the list of mental diversions.

 There were regional differences in distractions, with drivers in London the most likely to think about arriving on time, Welsh motorists the most preoccupied with future planning and those in the West Midlands the most likely to focus on money.

Providing drivers with a 'haven'

Responding to the findings, AA president Edmund King said: “Of course it’s important that drivers focus on the task in hand and pay attention to the road, but our research shows how cars can provide a haven for drivers from their busy lives.” He went on to suggest that being in the driver’s seat gives people a chance to think about plans and arrangements without being interrupted by others. According to Mr King, as long as drivers’ thoughts aren’t so demanding that they overwhelm their ability to concentrate on the task at hand, there is “nothing wrong with a bit of thinking time in the car”.

Distraction can lead to danger

Unfortunately, sometimes motorists do let themselves get too distracted while on the roads - and this can put them and others at serious risk. Of 1,445 fatal crashes in Britain in 2016, police recorded 397 instances where distractions and ‘failure to look’ was a contributory factor.

As well as letting their minds wander, drivers sometimes engage in behaviours that can mean they lose their focus on what’s going on around them. For example, a survey by Direct Line and Brake found that one in 10 motorists had suffered a near miss because they were distracted by food while driving. Meanwhile, a Cranfield University study of 11,000 motorists observed on the roads in St Albans, England, discovered that one in six were doing something distracting, such as smoking or talking on the phone or to a passenger.

Any distraction behind the wheel, whether it’s looking at a sat nav, having a snack or simply thinking too deeply about something unrelated to driving, can prove dangerous. It can impede your ability to see and react to hazards in time. Different types of distraction vary in terms of their impact on safety. For instance, the timing, duration, intensity and frequency of the activity all affect the level of risk.

How to stay focused behind the wheel

If you sometimes struggle to stay focused during journeys, there are some simple but effective steps you can take that may help. For example, the British School of Motoring (BSM) recommends opening car windows to increase the oxygen supply to the brain. This can work wonders for keeping you alert and aware of what’s going on around you. The organisation also notes the importance of taking regular breaks on longer journeys, and staying hydrated by having plenty of water or soft drinks. According to the BSM, chewing gum can help to keep you alert too. More generally, try to avoid climbing into your car if you’re tired. Fatigue is bound to limit your concentration and have a negative impact on your driving skills.

Meanwhile, it’s essential to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel at all times. Fiddling with phones, sat navs or food can make it impossible to focus properly on the road.

All parents know that kids can be a major cause of distraction in cars. From fights between siblings to cries of ‘are we there yet?’, they have an uncanny knack of getting your attention - often at the most inopportune moments. As we highlighted in a recent blog post, it’s a good idea to provide little ones with entertainment to keep them occupied during journeys. From phone apps and portable DVD players to puzzle books, there are plenty of car-friendly activities to keep them busy. If you’re relying on tech, make sure it’s charged up before you set off.

Pets are another possible source of distraction. If you travel with your dog or cat, make sure they have a pet seat belt or carrier, or use a boot guard, to stop them from moving around too much and getting in your way.  Realistically, it’s impossible to completely eliminate distractions while you’re driving - but if you follow tips like these, you stand a better chance of keeping your focus when you’re on the roads.

Realistically, it’s impossible to completely eliminate distractions while you’re driving - but if you follow tips like these, you stand a better chance of keeping your focus when you’re on the roads.


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