Distraction - the facts

Driving requires full concentration. Anything that takes your eyes, ears or mind off the road – whether it be your phone, your passengers or even your lunch – increases the chance of being involved in a crash.

The gist of it
  • Driver distraction is, increasingly, one of the major causes of road crashes.
  • Driver distraction can be divided into three main categories: taking your eyes off the road (visual); taking your hands off the wheel (manual); creating noise that interrupts concentration or thinking about things other than driving (cognitive).
  • Many vehicles come pre-installed with systems that allow drivers to integrate phones, navigation and music controls, to name a few. While these integrated devices might be safer than checking a text on your phone, they are still a distraction and should be avoided while driving.
  • Advancements in technology are making it easier for Police to identify and charge distracted drivers.

What are the common causes of distraction?

  • Mobile phones (all functions including texting, making or receiving calls, social media updates, taking photos, finding music, etc).
  • Other passengers (the crash risk increases exponentially with every peer aged passenger of a novice driver. Novice drivers with just two peer passengers are twice as likely to be involved in a serious crash).
  • Music and music devices.
  • Food and drink.
  • Scenery or activity outside the car.

The Issue - Driving distracted can increase the risk of a serious crash because if affects:

  • a driver’s attention and concentration, leading to riskier decision making.
  • a driver’s reactions, they may brake later than necessary if deep in conversation, or miss traffic signals.
  • a driver’s alertness and awareness of their surroundings. When distracted, drivers often neglect to check their mirrors and what is happening on the road as often as they should.

Calling the shots

  • As they become an increasing part of our lives, mobile phones are a significant distraction for drivers and the direct correlation between their use and serious crashes led to a law change making it illegal for drivers to talk or send text messages on handheld mobile phones.
  • Many jurisdictions have made it illegal for novice drivers to make and receive calls using a hands-free kit, as this is still a level of distraction that creates a risk for the driver and anyone else in the car.
  • Many jurisdictions have also placed passenger restrictions on young drivers.
  • As the driver, you have the right to ask passengers to follow your rules. You can also decline to carry passengers who have shown themselves to be a dangerous distraction.

A study using brain scanning found that driving while talking on a phone (hands-free) draws nearly 40% of mental resources away from the task of driving, causing drivers to miss visual and audio cues that would have avoided a crash.  In fact, the same parts of the brain that deal with spactial sense, navigation and visual information are the same parts that are lost to a phone call.  Yet, many drivers ignore the evidence.

There are common myths about driver distraction, but they are easily busted by the facts.

Myth vs Fact


Inattention, rather than manual dexterity, is a crucial factor in increasing the risk of a crash while using a mobile phone.


It’s illegal to touch your mobile phone when your car is stationary, but not parked.


If your eyes are off the road for just two seconds, a vehicle moving at 60km/h travels more than 33 metres – that’s the equivalent of driving a third of a rugby field with your eyes closed.


Myth and Fact! It all depends on the passenger. Generally, good passengers act as a second set of eyes. They can spots hazards on the road and modify their conversation if the driver needs to respond to a traffic situation. However, distracting passengers can be equally as dangerous.

Safety Checklist

Here's a few things you can do to stay focussed and avoid driver distraction.

  1. Speak up: As a driver, let your passengers know when their behaviour is distracting you. As a passenger, support the driver by speaking up when other passengers become distracting.
  2. As a passenger, help the driver out by watching the road and managing other distractions in the car.
  3. Take a break: Rather than eating and drinking while you’re driving, give yourself a break or eat before you get in the car.
  4. Prepare ahead: Make any adjustments to your seat or the mirrors before you start driving.
  5. More prep work: Create a playlist and start music before your start driving. Make sure you choose songs that will have a positive affect on your mood and concentration.
  6. No phone: Switch it off, put it into Do Not Disturb While Driving mode, and put it in the boot or back seat if you think you might be at all tempted to call, text, or check social media while driving.