Have you ever had breakfast during the morning commute? Put on make-up on the way to pick up the girls? Turned around to tell the kids to be quiet in the back? Or even just fumbled through the glove box to find a CD to put on?
If so, you’re up to three times more likely to be involved in a crash.
Use your phone while at the wheel and you’ll be up to four times as likely to crash.
But given that driving quickly becomes second nature to many of us, why is multitasking at the wheel so dangerous?
Driven to distraction
According to statistics from Brake, the road safety charity, driver distraction is partly responsible for around one-in-five crashes (22%). Even the most confident drivers show a significant deterioration in driving performance when performing a secondary task while at the wheel.
So what are the most common causes of driver distraction?
A joint survey of 1,000 drivers carried out by Brake and Direct Line insurance found that eating at the wheel was the biggest cause of driver distraction with almost two-thirds (62%) of motorists admitting to having done so within the last 12 months.
While a third (33%) said they’d eaten food a passenger had unwrapped for them, just under that number (29%) admitted to unwrapping the food themselves while driving.
The survey also found a staggering one-in-five (20%) applied make up or did their hair while driving, with one-in-twenty (5%) admitting to doing so in moving traffic!
And here are some sobering stats on using a phone while driving: chatting on a mobile while at the wheel reduces a driver’s reaction time by 50%, and even when using a hands-free device, reactions are 30% slower than under normal conditions.
To put that in some context, this means talking on a hands-free has a bigger impact on reaction times than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg per 100ml of blood, the current legal limit under UK law.
However, neither eating nor preening at the wheel are the greatest risks to road safety, nor is mobile phone use – children get the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous driver distraction around.
The trouble with children
Back in 2013, the boffins at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, carried out the world’s first study into driver distraction that placed a specific emphasis on having kids in the back of the car.
The study involved fitting 12 family cars with a small camera that monitored driver behaviour over a 12-week period, noting anything that took the drivers’ eyes from the road, and it found drivers were distracted in 90 of the 92 journeys observed.
And it wasn’t just a case of drivers’ taking their eyes off the road for a split-second – over three-quarters (77%) either watched their child from the rear view mirror or turned around to take a look, while more than one-in-ten (16%) engaged in conversation with a child on the back seat.
The study also found that during a 16-minute journey, a driver with kids in the back of the car would take their eyes off the road for an average of three minutes and 22 seconds – and this means the presence of children in the car is a whopping 12 times more distracting than talking on a phone while at the wheel.
So next time you get behind the wheel, as well as making sure you’re sufficiently fed, groomed and that no important calls are imminent, it might be worth making sure the kids are entertained so you can keep your eyes and mind on the road.