Distracted driving remains a problem in South Africa, and will continue to remain so into the future unless drastic action is taken. And, that action needs to come from officials, but, more importantly, in the form of a change of attitude among drivers. This is according to the Automobile Association (AA), which was commenting on distracted driving following an event hosted in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning (20 April).
“We brought together a number of journalists to drive in simulators. Once comfortable with the simulators, we tested them without distractions, and then again with distractions. The results are alarming, and clearly indicate that when distracted, drivers’ reaction times are slower, and they are much more prone to crash,” the AA said.
At the event, journalists were sent sms messages they needed to respond to, and were asked to open and close a water bottle. They were also distracted by being engaged in simple conversation.
“We saw that without distractions, the journalists were able to complete a lap of a racing circuit in fairly good times; times recorded for these laps averaged around 1.41 minutes, with hardly any crashes. However, with the distractions these lap times increased to 2.20 minutes, many of them with crashes or the cars spiraling out of control. Although not entirely scientific, the results point to the dangers of having your concentration averted from the road, even for a second,” the AA commented.
But the problem is not purely with the cracking down on offenders who disobey regulations, specifically those who use electronic devices, or indeed other devices, when driving. According to the AA, motorists who use these devices while behind the wheel need to change their attitudes, and take responsibility for their actions.
“A driver who is talking on a cellphone, or texting while driving, needs to realize that their actions are not only irresponsible but also put the lives of other, law-abiding citizens in jeopardy. They can cause a crash that injures, or worse, kills, other people through their own reckless behavior. We also want to make these drivers aware that it can happen to them: no-one is immune the dangers of being distracted,” said the AA.
Although there are no current local statistics on how distracted driving causes crashes, the AA believes there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest this number is large enough to warrant urgent attention. It said law enforcement against distracted drivers should be high on the agenda of road traffic officials, beyond stopping motorists at on and off ramps who use electronic devices.
While there are many different distractions that constitute distracted driving, the following are among the most prevalent:
• Talking on cellphones, or texting while driving,
• Eating while driving,
• Putting on ties or other clothing while driving, or changing clothes when driving,
• Applying make-up while driving,
• Looking to the backseat to engage passengers, especially children,
• Setting GPS devices while moving, and,
• Searching for items in various areas of the car while driving
“We urge all drivers to obey the laws, and above all, to be sensible when driving. Put your cellphone in the boot of your car before driving off, and put on your tie or make-up before you get going. If you use a GPS device, set the destination before embarking on your journey. Remember that if you don’t focus on the road, there is a 100 percent likelihood that you will not avoid a crash while you are distracted,” the AA concluded.