Saturday 14 December 2019

Take the pledge – and promise not to use phone at the wheel

Our Road Safety Authority expert reveals how a unique test could save lives and limbs

Broadcaster and RSA chairman Gay Byrne with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar launcing the pledge campaign not to use your phone while driving.
Broadcaster and RSA chairman Gay Byrne with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar launcing the pledge campaign not to use your phone while driving.

Let's face it, driving is a complex task.

You've to manage your lane position, speed, and the vehicle controls while simultaneously dealing with traffic. Throw in challenging weather conditions, the often unpredictable behaviour of other road users, the pressure of getting to your destination on time . . . the list goes on.

So you would think driving would absorb all of your attention and senses to their full capacity.

Believe it or not, new research we published at our recent conference on 'Driver Distraction' suggests that some drivers don't find this task stimulating enough.

They feel they need their phone bleeping beside them, music blaring, passenger chit/chat or even a meal to entertain them while behind the wheel, and they feel bored and bereft without them.

The study asked 30 Irish drivers of all ages and experience levels to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences on distractions when behind the wheel over an intensive three-week period.

We also asked them to take part in an experiment – to abstain from their distraction 'of choice' for seven days. This included the tendency to keep one eye, hand, or God forbid both, on the mobile phone while at traffic lights, or munching the breakfast roll at the wheel during the commute to work. It turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster for some of our participants.

Some reported physical symptoms of anxiety during this 'deprivation' phase of the research. They sat behind the wheel, with their phone switched OFF beside them, in a strange state and only allowing themselves the pleasure of turning it back on when they arrived. Even more surprising was the anti-climax they experienced, on arrival, when there was not one single text message, email, voicemail, or Facebook alert demanding their attention. There was no great emergency, no work or family catastrophe that demanded their attention while en route. Nobody died.

So why all the stress?

This research reveals that many of us are quite simply addicted to our mobile phones. And we need help.

We offer up lots of excuses to justify using our mobile phone when behind the wheel.

"I am a good driver, and I can multitask" . . . "I know it is not safe, but I am a particularly skilled driver. I can handle it" are just some of the excuses.

Or how about: "The car is an extension of my office and I must use it to catch up on my emails and phone calls"?

Parents even justify their behaviour saying they need to keep the family schedule moving and check in with child minders and children's schedules. These things can't wait.

But what this research has shown is that these excuses, while valid and understandable, are only that. Excuses. The evidence suggests that it can take just three seconds with your eyes off the road to cause a collision.

Driver distraction is thought to be a contributory factor in 20-30pc of collisions. It is a real phenomenon causing death and injury around the world every day. And mobile phone use in the car is one of the biggest causes of driver distraction.

The good news is that by day seven of forced deprivation, many drivers reported greater awareness of their own and other drivers' behaviour, and felt more competent to react to hazards. They became better, safer drivers and had learned an important lesson.

Will they keep it up you ask? Some will and others won't. But it has started the conversation on driver distraction. And each and every one of us can continue that conversation. At our conference many of the more than 200 delegates pledged to switch off their mobile while driving and to ask other drivers to do the same when travelling as a passenger. So go on, take the pledge on our 'Change One Thing Campaign' section of rsa.ie

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