Charity appeals to drivers to tune in to road safety

Brake, the road safety charity, is calling on drivers to give the road their full attention and not to take risks that put lives in danger, as Police announce a national operation on distracted driving.

Drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are dramatically increasing their risk of crashing. In 2014, 12% of crashes in NZ had diverted attention as a contributing factor [1]. If you talk on the phone while driving - hands-free or hand-held - your risk of causing an injury or death is four times higher than without the distraction [2]. Use a phone to text, email or browse the internet and the risk is much higher still.

Brake is calling on drivers to commit to never using a mobile phone at the wheel or to do anything else which diverts your attention from driving, to save lives and prevent families from experiencing the devastating consequences of crashes.

Brake is advising drivers to put their phone off or on silent and out of sight and reach. If you do need to make or take calls, pull over in a safe place. On long journeys, take a minimum of a 15 minute break at least every two hours, and use it as an opportunity to make calls and respond to messages, as well as resting, rather than putting lives at risk by using a phone at the wheel. Brake is also urging friends, family, employers and colleagues to do their bit and make life easier for drivers by not calling them or continuing phone conversations while they're at the wheel.

Distraction reduces hazard perception and increases reaction times in a similar way to drink-driving, making drivers much more likely to cause deaths and injuries [3]. Drivers who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves: research shows 98% are unable to divide their time without it affecting performance [4].

Caroline Perry, Brake's New Zealand director said: "In the modern world, drivers are confronted with many distractions that prevent them from giving the road their full attention, risking devastating crashes and loss of life. Driving is the riskiest thing most of us do regularly. You're operating a potentially lethal machine in an unpredictable environment, so it requires full concentration at all times. Yet many people still choose to multitask at the wheel, and it's disappointing that there has been a rise in the number of people being caught using their phone. When you're driving, it's essential to keep your eyes and mind on the road at all times. Turn off your phone, or put it on silent, and keep it out of reach."

Quick reference facts: mobile phones

  • A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22% of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction [5].
  • Drivers speaking on phones are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury, whether on a hands-free or hand-held phone [6].
  • Hands-free calls cause almost the same level of risk as hand-held [7], as the call itself is the main distraction, not holding the phone. Brain scanning has confirmed that speaking on a hands-free phone makes you less alert and less visually attentive [8].
  • Texting drivers have 35% slower reaction times and poor lane control [9]. One large-scale study found texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention [10].

End notes:

[1] Ministry of Transport figures

[2] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005

[3] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006

[4] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010

[5] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006

[6] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005

[7] Using a hands-free mobile whilst driving can be more dangerous than drink driving, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009

[8] Speaking on a hands-free phone while driving makes you less alert and less attentive, University of Toronto, 2013

[9] The effect of text messaging on driver behaviour: a simulator study, Transport Research Laboratory, 2008

[10] Driver Distraction in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operations, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2009

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