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Driver Distraction

Driver distraction is a diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving toward a competing activity. A distraction can often occur simultaneously – at times resulting in a complete loss of control. Distraction can be visual, manual and cognitive.

Based on international evidence it is estimated that driver distraction could play a role in 20-30% of all road collisions in this country. This means that driver distraction could be a contributory factor in over 1,400 fatal and injury collisions annually.

Child Distraction
The two biggest distractions for drivers in Ireland are the mobile and children. But did you know that child distraction could be the more lethal? According to researchers at Monash University in Australia they are 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile.

The study also found that on average a parent takes their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip. The most common types of distractions that children cause include the driver turning to look at the child or watching the goings on in the back seat in the rear-view mirror, engaging in conversation with the child, leaning into the back to help or pacify the child and even playing with the child.

This is the subject of the first of two new ads from of the RSA on the subject of driver distraction over the Summer of 2015. The first ad which was aired on Monday 15th ad deals with child distraction and is entitled ‘Looking Back’ [insert link]. (A second ad will follow later in the summer and deals with the issue of mobile phone distraction).

In the 40 second ad we see a woman looking back, over the duration of her entire life. She’s looking back with regret at something that happened many years ago. By the end of the advertisement, we see what this event was. The moment she looked back in a very concrete sense – looking back to her child while she was driving. We cut before she crashes into an oncoming car and loses this child forever.

We end with the message: Don’t lose a lifetime looking back.
Never let a child take your focus off the road. Pull over if you have to.

The cost is too high to take your focus off the road to look at your child for even one second.

We’re asking drivers to give the road all of their focus, and if they need to, to pull over.

Being a Good Parent Means Being a Good Driver
When it comes to children in the car, parents are resigned to the distraction they cause and sceptical of finding a permanent solution. That’s why we need to educate parents about the risks of focusing on their children rather than the road.

The RSA undertook research in this area in 2014 to understand what was going on in the car with parents and young children. We asked parents to keep a diary and what they had to say was very revealing.

It found that parents are conflicted. They are trying to be a good driver and a good parent at the same time. They are torn between looking after the child, and they struggle to put the child’s more immediate needs behind the task of safely driving the car.

A good parent wouldn’t ignore their kid screaming in the back seat without at least trying to intervene. Yet the very act of attempting to attend to their children’s needs, makes them bad drivers and puts their children in mortal danger.

Parents of young children are busier than most and see their car as an extension of the home and a necessary place to multi-task. For parents, driving with children on board, can be an experience filled with anxiety, guilt, frustration and irritation.

In the RSA study we asked parents to gain a fresh perspective. Parents consciously took a trip without children and asked to note any differences. It was a revelation for some when it came to their driving and they realised they needed to do something.

The aim of this new campaign is to educate parents on the risks that children pose as a distraction in the car. We want parents to understand that the things going on outside the vehicle need their attention much more than the things inside it.

Tips for parents
The best advice is to give serious thought to your children’s needs before you all jump into the car. One solution in reducing driver distraction, according to the Monash University report, is the correct restraint of children in their car seats.

The RSA sees it regularly at its Check it Fits child car seat service. Think how you would feel on a trip in the car sitting in a seat that’s incorrectly fitted, wearing layers of padded clothing and the straps not adjusted correctly so they’re cutting into your shoulders? It certainly explains some of the constant crying and trying to get out of the seat behaviour of some children. The Australian researchers found the children in their study were in the incorrect position for over 70 per cent of the journey time. Three quarters of child car seats we examine here in Ireland are incorrectly fitted. Ensuring your child is properly restrained in the correct car seat could eliminate a big cause of distraction while driving for parents.

If they do start acting up once the car is in motion, keep your attention on the road. If you feel you absolutely have to intervene, find a safe place to pull over in order to do so, but under no circumstances on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Otherwise stay focused on the driving. Everything and everyone else can wait.

You have spent every waking moment working hard to protect your children, don’t jeopardise this because you didn’t make in car safety your single-minded priority. If you want to be a good parent in the car, focus on being a good driver.