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The 6 biggest distractions when driving


Many of you will have read about the 1994 case when Stella Liebeck sued McDonalds because she spilled coffee in her lap causing third degree burns in her pelvis region. She had to have skin grafts, eight days in hospital and two years of subsequent treatments. McDonald’s ended up having to pay more than US$640,000 in damages. This was less than it could have been because the jury decided that Liebeck was responsible for 20% of the situation. What most people think is that the car was moving (it wasn’t) and that she was driving (she wasn’t, she was a passenger). So, if you can spill scalding coffee in your groin in a car when you are not driving and the car is stationary, imagine the damage you can do if you are driving and moving at speed.

While the case is often held up as an example of a frivolous lawsuit, it’s not so cut-and-dried and you can look at it two ways.

  1. Eating and drinking is a serious distraction when driving, so why are restaurants even allowed to offer drive-through services? Seeing as they are, the onus should be on them to create food or drink that is idiot-proof, and obviously this cup wasn’t idiot-proof.
  2. The problem with making things idiot-proof is that a better idiot comes along to ruin your plans. People should have at least some common sense that says ‘Don’t put a flimsy cup of scalding coffee in your groin’.

Many accidents and near misses are caused by people dropping food in their lap, people burning themselves on hot pie fillings, and general distractions.

If you absolutely must eat on your journey and it’s impossible to stop (we’re not sure why this would be, but let’s say you’re in bandit territory on a three-lane motorway and you are pretending you are Sandra Bullock recreating the film Speed except you are in a car and not in a bus), then pick sensible food and drink choices: a bottle with a cap that’s easy to open and close, and food that doesn’t require utensils to eat or power tools to open.


There’s an excellent infographic here which describes how distracted you can be while texting or using a phone when driving. The statistics (which relate to American drivers) say that in 2011 at least 23% of collisions involved cellphone usage (1.3 million crashes!) Your attention is diverted from the road for around 5 seconds, so at 60mph you will have travelled 134m without looking at the road.

Texting makes you 23 times more likely to crash; even just talking or listening makes you 1.3 times more likely, and reaching for a device makes you 1.4 times more likely to crash. Search around and you’ll find statistics with different numbers, but there is a common theme: using your cellphone while driving increases your risk of having an accident. Therefore, keep it hands-free, but preferably stop if you need to make a call or read a text message.

Road signs

Experiments have been done in various countries, see here. Road signs don’t just mean the ones placed by roading authorities, it also means road markings, billboards and advertising hoardings, and street and place names.

Reducing the clutter of road signs has, in some cases, reduced the accident rate at dangerous intersections.

Sights and sounds

Whether it’s the pretty girl walking the dog, the buff guy doing pushups in the park, or a stunning tree loaded with blossom, our eyes are drawn to attractive things, and this takes them from the road.

Radios and satellite navigation

If reaching for a phone makes you 1.4 times more likely to crash, it’s the same kind of action and distraction for reaching for and retuning the radio or making a change on a satellite navigation system.

Some vehicles’ inbuilt satnav systems won’t let you input destinations while the car is moving, but all will let you change the music.

Modern cars are coming with larger and larger screens that convey more and more information. Some will read your texts to you using Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone.


Are we there yet? We’re nearly at the end of this article on the six biggest driving distractions. If it was a long journey, a child would need to be kept occupied and that either means a book or screen (which can cause motion sickness in some kids), a passenger playing games with them like eye-spy, or you having to divert some of your attention off the road.

If your child or children start playing up, it’s best to stop and deal with the situation rather than try to do it while driving.

Here’s CNN explaining how your performance is affected when you are distracted

There we have six big distractions while driving. Is there anything else you find distracting? Perhaps some grotty ailments you’d like to share with us? Makeup, a fly in the car?

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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