When drivers are distracted on the road, it’s easy for careless mistakes to be made. A momentary lack of concentration can result in anything from a bumper-bash to a fatal accident, which is why it’s crucial to give driving your full attention. Here are some tips for how to be a more mindful driver…
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States estimates that people are distracted by secondary activities, such as eating, texting, smoking, talking and fiddling with gadgets, 30% of the time while driving. In fact, research shows that around 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction that reduces driving safety.
‘These numbers are far too high, considering how serious the consequences can be from just a few seconds of carelessness on the road,’ says Anton Ossip, Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Insure. ‘Committing to driving distraction-free is not easy, yet with statistics telling us that we’re more likely to have an accident when distracted, many drivers are making an effort.’
‘For example,’ he continues, ‘Discovery Insure data shows that since the launch of Vitality Drive Active Rewards, a driver behaviour programme we developed to reward clients for driving well, there’s been a 41% reduction in the number of harsh driving events among its members. It is within the collective power of all South African drivers to make our roads safer, one driver at a time.’
Discovery Insure recommends you follow these tips to keep you safe while driving:
Safety tips for families with kids
Anyone who has kids knows that driving with them brings about an unpredictable set of distractions, and motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of accidental death in children aged 14 and under. Families should practise the following safety tips on every ride:
- First up are seatbelts – buckle up every time, no matter how short the trip!
- Children 12 and under should be properly strapped in the backseat. Although airbags can save lives, kids riding in a front seat can be seriously injured or even killed when an airbag is deployed in a crash.
- Choose the right safety seat and belt for your child’s size and age.
- Infants should ride in rear-facing safety seats until they’re at least 12 months old, and weigh a minimum of 9kg.
- Children who are one year’s old and above, and weigh between 9 and 18kg, should ride in forward-facing safety seats.
- Children over 18kg should be correctly secured in belt-positioning boosters, or other appropriate restraints, until the adult lap and shoulder belts fit correctly, which is usually around age eight.
- Learn more about car-seat safety and how to properly install a child’s seat here.
Safety tips for travelling with pets
As the driver of the vehicle, you shouldn’t be distracted by fellow passengers, including animals:
- If an accident happens, a restraining device will prevent your furry friend from hurtling forward into the front window or the back of the car seat.
- Net pet barriers, available in different sizes, keep animals safe and secure, so they can’t distract you when driving.
- Truly pampered pets can ride in style next to you in booster seats. These seats are supported from below, so your pet has a great view and a comfortable ride.
The dangers of daydreaming and drowsiness
We’re all guilty of it, but daydreaming while driving means you’re looking without seeing –you could be staring at potential danger without registering it. Police reports actually include this as a reason for some crashes, and the same goes for drowsiness. Here’s how to stay alert:
- When you catch your attention drifting, try to refocus. Pull over and stretch your legs.
- Take a few deep breaths and talk yourself back into focus.
- Many accidents are caused by driver fatigue. Police officers often report pulling over drivers for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, only to find out that they’re just sleepy.
- If you feel drowsy, you need to pull off the road. Take a nap, put a co-driver behind the wheel, or find a safe place to stay overnight. Your fatigue won’t go away until you get some good rest.
Say no to knob-turning
There’s a set of distractions known as knob-turning. Whenever you turn a knob, pull a lever, push a button or swipe a screen, you’re distracted by the mechanics inside your vehicle:
- Develop a habit of fixing your mirrors and putting on your seatbelt before you start driving.
- Also, fix your seat: adjust the lumbar, your headrest, and bring the steering wheel down. Some upmarket vehicles even have programmable buttons for seat positions. But do this all before starting the engine.
- Use the automation in your car. Take time to learn the navigation system features and pre-programme radio stations.
- Keep your eyes on the road so you stay in your lane and improve your reaction time.
- And remember, cellphone use is not just a visual distraction, it’s a cognitive one too (and it’s illegal!).
Be wary of following the sounds
Noises and sounds inside your vehicle could cause you to fall into a trap known as ‘following the sound’. The sounds of your phone ringing, your kids watching a movie on the iPad, or even your favourite radio station can distract you from focusing on the road (when you’re listening to a sound inside your engine, you’re not really distracted because then you’re listening to an equipment problem, but you’ll need to pull over to investigate – only if it’s safe to do so).
If you’re not willing to do without these technologies in the car, then try turning down the volume at the very least.
Consider distractions from outside your car
- When you drive, you’re constantly scanning your environment outside as part of your defensive driving habit. As you scan, you might be visually distracted by the scenery outside your window. Other than refusing to avert your eyes from the road in front of you, which is hardly a reasonable option, it’s best to keep your glances quick.
- Sounds outside the car can also be a distraction, especially loud hooting. It’s natural to follow the sound with your gaze – just remember to quickly refocus on the road.
- If the sound is coming from your own car, then pull over and investigate when it’s safe to do so.
“The best solution,” says Ossip, “is to develop a state of awareness that makes you almost resistant to distractions. As any Vitality Drive Active Rewards member can tell you, being consciously more mindful is key to becoming a better and safer driver.”
Discovery is rewarding all South Africans for their safe driving
During the Vitality Open, which is open to all drivers in South Africa for a limited time only, anyone can get rewarded for driving well. Participants who drive 100 consecutive event-free kilometres will achieve a drive goal, and can earn a range of rewards: including flights, fuel, gym, movies and concert tickets, discounts on smoothies, coffees, tyres, Uber rides and Nando’s, ; brand-new running shoes; HealthyFood benefits from PnP or Woolworths, and the latest iPhone – for life. Click here for a closer look at the Vitality Open rules.