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The Driver's Handbook

Driver Distraction and Inattention

Inattention or distraction are reported to be a contributing factor in around a third of fatal crashes and nearly one half of serious crashes per year in South Australia.

Driving is a complex task requiring coordination of a wide range of skills. To anticipate and avoid hazards on the road, drivers must give their full attention at all times. Any lapse in concentration (inattention), or distraction away from driving, increases the risk of a crash.

Too often, drivers engage in activities that distract them from the driving task. These include using mobile phones, eating, drinking, smoking, conversing with passengers, using audio equipment, and responding to distractions caused by children or other passengers. There are also distractions outside the vehicle, such as roadside advertising that can take the drivers' attention away from the road.

Distraction is an issue in both country and metropolitan areas, for all age ranges and for both males and females. Research shows that distractions can cause:
  • drivers straddling or overlapping lanes on a multi-lane road, or veering across the road
  • drivers driving inconsistently, speeding up or slowing down without apparent reason
  • difficulty in maintaining appropriate following distances from vehicles in front (tailgating)
  • lower awareness of safe gaps in traffic
  • slower reaction times and hence heightened crash risk
  • impairment of the driver's judgement.

Research has also found that carrying passengers poses a greater distraction for young drivers and, coupled with peer pressure, can increase the risk of a crash.

An increasing number of in-vehicle information, communication and entertainment systems including DVD players are being used in cars, which can contribute to a driver being distracted.

Avoid the temptation of doing other tasks and getting distracted while you are driving. Taking your eyes off the road or diverting your attention even for just a few seconds can be fatal.

Mobile Phone Use While Driving

Driving while using a mobile phone can cause both physical and cognitive (thought) distraction, leading to impaired driving performance. Using a mobile phone while driving can significantly impair a driver's:

  • reaction time
  • visual search patterns or scanning the road ahead
  • ability to maintain speed and position on the road
  • ability to judge safe gaps in traffic
  • general awareness of other road users.
Mobile phoneSafe driving tips if you need to use a mobile phone

  • Pull over safely and park to make or receive a mobile phone call.
  • Plan breaks in your trip for phone calls.
  • Tell your family, friends and others not to call when you know you'll be driving

Research has shown that using a mobile phone while driving increases crash risk by at least four times. Typically, run-off-the-road crashes and rear-end crashes are most commonly associated with mobile phone usage.

Using a mobile phone brings even greater risk to novice drivers as they can experience difficulty in balancing the many demands on their driving - from perceptual (visual), mental and physical tasks. Research has found novice drivers who use a mobile phone spend less time looking at the road ahead. They are also more likely to wander over the road (across traffic lanes) and take longer to notice driving hazards.

Learner’s permit and provisional (P1) licence holders are prohibited from using any type of mobile phone function whilst driving, including hands free, Bluetooth, loud speaker operation, GPS and text messaging.

All drivers have a responsibility to be aware of the rules surrounding mobile phone use while driving and should refer to the Mobile Phones While Driving Page for further information.


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