We explore some of the most common distractions that can affect Australian drivers and endanger our safety.

Research cited by the NSW Transport Roads and Maritime Services Department indicates that at least 14% of all crashes involve the driver being distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle1. The department also attribute one in ten road-related fatalities directly to driver distraction2. The Australian Road Research Board's Professor Michael Regan says that the real numbers are much higher.

Comparing the numbers to research from the USA that observes drivers for longer periods of time, Professor Regan suggests that actual numbers might be closer to 68% of all crashes as opposed to the 14%3. While the research numbers might be disputable, the dangers of distraction aren't. Here, we explore some common distractions that can be a threat to road safety for drivers across Australia.


1. Mobile phones

Studies indicate that using a mobile phone (or device) while driving can increase a driver's risk of being involved in a serious crash by up to four times more4, and using phones while driving can be as dangerous as drink driving5, 6. Even a small distraction, like glancing at your mobile phone for two seconds while driving at high speeds can be extremely dangerous. Taking your eyes off the road for two seconds while travelling at 60 km/h means being distracted on the road for over 30 metres and this, coupled with an average person's reaction time of about 2 seconds, can mean that the driver is distracted for nearly 60 metres, greatly increasing the risk of a serious crash7.


2. Eating or drinking at the wheel

A morning caffeine fix or breakfast on the go can be potentially dangerous when you're driving and is one of the most common distractions, we face8. Recent research on driving and eating and drinking from Griffith University on the Gold Coast showed that food that requires concentration to limit spillages can lead to greater distractions and can be as dangerous as texting while driving9.


3. Pets in the car

Research into motor vehicle collisions and the involvement of pets in such collisions has indicated an association between both factors, indicating how important it is to restrain pets when travelling with them10.


4. Kids in the car

Squabbling or bored children can require some level of minding, which can be quite distracting. It doesn't matter how short or long the drive, it's essential to keep your kids entertained so that you can focus on the road. Keep favourite books, magazines, and toys in the car and within easy reach, so that you can dissolve any boredom or potential fights in quick time.


5. Sunlight and visibility

Driving into the sun at dawn or dusk can be particularly distracting if it forces you to squint. According to researchers, it can take up to five minutes for drivers to adapt to the sunlight on a very bright, sunny day and in some cases impacts from bright sunlight can affect drivers for up to 48 minutes. Avoid distractions from looking at the sun by putting on sunglasses, pulling down your car's sun visor or just stopping until the sunsets.


6. Tunes ...

Switching between radio stations, plugging and unplugging USBs or devices, changing CDs or choosing songs on your music player can take your focus off the road and turn you into a potential hazard to yourself and others on the road.


7. In-car systems and navigation

Recent research has indicated that it isn't just phones that affect how we drive. New technologies in the form of in-car technologies or voice-assisted phone-based navigation systems can also be a distraction. Apart from just being distracting by demanding a driver's attention, they can also require complex cognitive processes to control which can take away attention from the road and hamper a person's ability to drive safely12.


8. A surprise

Car accidents can happen when something surprises you while driving. A spider in the car, a bee sting, or a passenger sneezing, can give you a fright and cause you to panic and slam your foot on the brake or to swerve. Keep your cool and pull over somewhere safely; and then you can sort out whatever has distracted you and take your time to calm down before joining traffic again.


9. Your own reflection

Hey there, good looking! Primping or grooming in the mirror is a surprisingly common distraction for drivers. Applying make-up, fixing hair, adjusting your clothes or simply appreciating your reflection can divert your attention away from what's happening around you on the road. If absolutely required, make sure you stop and fix your appearance instead of doing it while the car is in motion.


10. Fatigue

Driver fatigue can have a significant impact on driving. As well as the risk of falling asleep, drivers can have their attention distracted by actions to fight off tiredness, such as sipping a coffee, listening to the radio, calling people on the phone, and more13. In the event of fatigue, it is best to avoid driving and get some rest before getting behind the wheel again.


Keeping your focus on the road is essential when driving, but some accidents are unavoidable. Car insurance can protect you from financial loss in the event of a car accident. Contact Qudos Bank today for a quote for your motor vehicle insurance.



The contents of this article have been prepared by Allianz Australia Insurance Limited.

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1. NSW Government Transport, Roads and Maritime Services, Driving distractions and crash risk, viewed 28 August, 2018.

2. NSW Government Transport, Roads and Maritime Services, Driving distractions and crash risk, viewed 23 August, 2018.

3. Bowden T, 2018, 'Distracted drivers urged to put mobile phones away, remember safety', ABC News, 3 January 2018, viewed 23 August, 2018.

4. McEvoy, S., Stevenson, M., McCartt, A., Woodward, M., Haworth, C., Palamara, P. and Cercarelli, R, 2005, ‘Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case‐crossover study’, BMJ 331: 428‐30, viewed 23 August, 2018.

5. Stayer, D., Drews, F. and Crouch, D, 2006, ‘A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver’, Human Factors, 48(2): 381‐91, viewed 23 August, 2018.

6. Leung S, Croft RJ, Jackson ML, Howard ME, McKenzie RJ 2012, 'A comparison of the effect of mobile phone use and alcohol consumption on driving simulation performance', Traffic Injury Prevention 13(6), 566 - 74, viewed 23 August, 2018.

7. Queensland Government, 'Driver distraction', Join the Drive, viewed 23 August, 2018.

8. Geared, 'The top five driver distractions', Road and Maritime Services NSW, viewed 23 August, 2018.

9. Irwin C, Monement S and Desbrow B, 2015, 'The influence of drinking, texting, and eating on simulated driving performance', Traffic Injury Prevention, Vol. 16, Iss. 2, viewed 23 August, 2018.

10. Huisingh C, Levitan E. B., Irvin M. R., Owsley C. and McGwin G. J. 2016, 'Driving with pets and motor vehicle collision involvement among older drivers: a prospective population-based study', Accident Analysis and Prevention, vol. 88, pp. 169 - 74, viewed 28 August, 2018.

11. Pegin P and Sitnichuk E 2017, 'The Effect of Sun Glare: Concept, characteristics, classification', Transportation Research Procedia, viewed 28 August, 2018.

12. Australian Road Research Board 2017, 'Insights into an emergent and complex problem for in-vehicle technologies', ARRB News, 24 April, 2017, viewed 23 August, 2018.

13. Williamson A, 2007, 'Fatigue and coping with driver distraction', in I. J. Faulks, M. Regan, M. Stevenson, J. Brown, A. Porter and J. D. Irwin (Eds.). Distracted Driving, Sydney, NSW: Australasian College of Road Safety, pages 611 - 622, viewed 23 August, 2018.

Published July 2019