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What you need to know about distracted driving

As attention spans shorten, a result of the constant onslaught of notifications and updates from our various gadgets, this unfortunately also has a knock-on effect on our driving behaviours as we become increasingly distracted behind the wheel.

In 2016, for example, 47,031 road traffic accidents (ranging from slight accidents to fatal crashes) were caused by distractions inside and outside the vehicle, mobile phone use, and the contributory factor ‘failure to look,’ according to government data. That’s roughly 46.9% of all crashes caused by distracted driving.

In light of these statistics, it’s important for drivers to take precautions to make sure that they’re not distracted, and it’s essential to remember that the term ‘distraction’ doesn’t necessarily just refer to your phone when it comes to the law.

What counts as a distraction?

It’s common knowledge that it’s illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving a car or motorcycle. However, there are various other activities that count as driving distractions that you may not be aware of, including the following:

  • Looking at your phone, or any other electronic device
  • Typing
  • Eating and drinking
  • Smoking
  • Mental distractions, such as arguing with a passenger
  • Having the music on too loud
  • Being distracted by things outside the car, such as objects or noises

However, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and more information about what counts as ‘distracted driving’ can be found on the government website.

The key thing to remember is that you must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times, and the police can stop you at any time if they suspect that you’re not in control. It’s also important to know that the law regarding mobile phones and other distractions still applies even if the car is standstill, such as when you’re stopped at traffic lights or stuck in traffic.

What are the penalties?

It’s clear that distracted driving is a factor in a high volume of road accidents each year. However, it’s not just the danger of being involved in an accident that should deter you from driving whilst distracted - there are also a number of penalties in place if you’re caught.

If the police suspect that you’re using a hand-held phone whilst driving, you could receive up to six penalty points on your licence, as well as an on-the-spot fine of £200. You may even lose your licence if you passed your driving test within the last 2 years.

Bear in mind that the police don’t just issue penalty notices for mobile phone use – if you have an obscured view of the road ahead, for example, or don’t have proper control of the vehicle, you could be issued with up to three penalty points on your licence. If the case goes to court, you could even be subject to a maximum fine of £1,000, as well as potentially losing your licence altogether.

Further information on the penalties for dangerous or distracted driving can be found on the government website.

5 tips for avoiding distractions

Most people are pretty sensible when it comes to driving. But if you’re occasionally guilty of using your phone whilst driving (or perhaps you just have a short attention span), these are five easy steps you can take to keep your focus on the road:

1. Go hands-free

There’s no real excuse for using your phone whilst driving (unless it’s more dangerous to stop than to continue, such as to call 999). Most smartphones nowadays will have a hands-free functionality, or the ability to connect with the Bluetooth in your car, so that you can call people without having to touch (or even look at) your phone. Check whether your smartphone has hands-free capability, and make sure it’s fully connected before you set off.

2. Keep it on silent

There’s nothing quite like the rush of receiving a new notification. In fact, research shows that habitual phone use could be caused by the hit of Dopamine (the chemical that drives our mental ‘rewards system’) that’s released in our brains every time we get a notification from our various phone apps. This ‘rewards system’ is what keeps us checking our phones, as that satisfied feeling we get every time we hear the ‘ping’ of a message arriving in our inbox is what makes us want to read it straight away.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your phone on silent and stowed it away in the glovebox – just so that you’re not tempted to check it whilst you’re behind the wheel. And if you’re really struggling, you could always download a specialist app that will suppress all phone notifications for a specified amount of time. If you’re using an apple phone, you can use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature.

3. Limit the amount of passengers

It can be difficult to say ‘no’ to friends when they need a lift, but it’s important to limit the amount of passengers you have in the car, as well as the amount of activity going on around you. Everybody singing along to their favourite track, or throwing something around the car could easily distract you from the road. You’ll also save fuel by having less passengers, as your car will be considerably lighter – so it’s a bit of a win-win situation, really!

4. Set up a playlist

Even the best and most beloved music library in the world will have the odd track that you’re just not in the mood to listen to, and it can be very tempting just to skip it as you’re driving along – it’s only one button after all. However, just the few seconds you spend with your eyes off the road skipping the track could be all it takes to cause an accident. Make a playlist before you set off with all your favourite songs to keep you entertained on your journey.

5. Take a break

If you’re starting to get a bit tired of driving, then you might find that you are more easily distracted as you try to alleviate the boredom. Pull over in a safe place, and take as long as you need to rest up before getting back on the road. It’ll also be a good opportunity to check all the notifications you missed whilst you were driving!

Make sure you’re covered

Even if you’re not so easily distracted whilst driving, accidents do still happen. That’s why it’s important to make sure that you’re fully protected by having car insurance in place. The minimum legal requirement in the UK is third party only insurance. However, there are a range of car insurance options available, so it’s important to choose the cover that’s right for you.

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