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It's not just phones distracting Aussie drivers - a new survey of 1,027 Aussie drivers conducted for Murphy's Law Accident Lawyers has found eating hot food and drinks, passengers, pets and zoning out are also major distractions.

The most common driver distractions that survey users admitted to doing in the last month were:

  • Consuming hot food and drinks
  • Driving while very angry or upset
  • Zoning out and wondering how they got somewhere
  • Being distracted by kids, passengers or pets
  • Using a smartphone (not hands free)

The who and what of driver distractions

While using a phone might be the driver distraction that comes to mind, it’s not the most common distraction. Here are some key takeaways from the survey.

  • Driving while drinking hot food or drinks is the most common driver distraction (Nearly 4 in 10 drivers)
  • Young drivers aged 18-34 are two and half times more likely to use their mobile phone while driving than those aged 45+.
  • Victorian drivers are twice as likely to use their mobile phone when driving (not hands free) compared to drivers in NSW (16.8% in VIC compared to 8.5% in NSW)
  • Queensland men are twice as likely to use their mobile phone when driving (not hands free) compared to women (19.5% compared to 9.4%).
  • Around 2 in 10 drivers admit to zoning out and wondering how they got somewhere while driving.
  • Around 2 in 10 drivers admitted to driving while very angry/upset, zoning out or being distracted by kids within the last month.

Let's take more of a look at each of these distractions and what the survey revealed.

Consuming hot food and drinks

  • The survey found nearly 40% of drivers consume hot food and drinks while driving
Messy double Quarter Pounder burger held by a driver in car with sauce dripping down arm

This is one that's not as cut and dry as texting while driving. Drive-thrus like Maccas or GYG are all over the place and serve up hot food and drinks for on the go.

It's not illegal to drive with hot food and drinks in Queensland, but it can become illegal if police consider you to be distracted by it and therefore not being in full control of your vehicle. So if the hot food is spilling into your lap or sauce is smeared across the steering wheel then you might be heading for fine and points on your licence.

Driving while very angry or upset

If you are driving when very upset or angry, you are distracted and putting yourself and others at risk of a car accident injury.

  • 20% of drivers admit driving when very angry or upset in the last month.

It has been suggested that anger, when it is intense enough, can cause aggressive driving or take the focus off the drivers surroundings enough to increase the risk of an accident.

Drivers aged 18-34 were slightly more likely to have driven while upset or angry but there was little difference between genders.

Zoning out and wondering how they got somewhere

It's not just texting while driving that can be distracted, zoning out can also lead to accidents on Queensland roads.

  • Around 20% of drivers admit zoning out while driving and wondering how they got somewhere

Have you ever been in the middle of your journey and had no idea how you got there? It sounds pretty scary but most of the time it is harmless. The brain tends to retain information that is novel or startling more easily than information that is routine. Therefore, when you are driving on a motorway or a common route such as a daily commute, you are more likely to zone out.

It's the rare times that people's minds genuinely wander so far from the task of driving that they are a risk to others on the road.

Being distracted by kids, passengers or pets

Anyone with young kids will know that a screaming baby, a tantruming toddler and fighting siblings in the back can be a major distraction.

  • Nearly 20% of drivers admit to being distracted by kids, passengers or pets in the last month.
Young boy crying in a car child seat

For couples then having an argument while driving and having to deal with distracted driving is just another thing that could go wrong.

Large pets like dogs can also be a risk to distracted drivers with them moving around or barking which are all distractions for the driver. It's illegal in Queensland to drive with your dog in your lap.

It's strongly recommended you harness your dog for their safety and yours although it's not a legal requirement. However, you can be fined if police believe your dog was causing you to drive distracted.

People who are distracted by kids, passengers or pets may find themselves:

  • forgetting where they're going
  • losing concentration on speed and braking too early (which can cause accidents)
  • taking their eyes off the road

Using a smartphone (not hands free)

  • Those aged 18-34 are 2.5 times more likely than those 45+ to use phone while driving than those 45+
Lady distracted by looking into her phone and taking a selfie while driving a car

When you mentioned distracted driving, using a phone is often the first thing that comes to mind. The rise of smartphones and the phone addiction that came with it led to increased accidents due to phone distraction.

The Queensland government has clamped down on mobile phone use among drivers. It's illegal to use your mobile phone while driving in Queensland and it’s punishable by fines of up to $2500, six demerit points or three months imprisonment.

Mobile phone use is distracted driving and can be dangerous if you take your eyes off the road for even a second while texting as that's the time it takes to travel one and half car lengths at 100km/h.

More recently the Queensland government has expanded the use of A.I enabled cameras to detect drivers using their mobile phones while driving or not wearing a seatbelt.

Thoughts like: "I need to text my partner", "I need to text my boss" or "What was that notification?" cause drivers to take their eyes off the road and miss events that are happening in front of them.

Increased fines along with better smartphone integration in newer cars do seem to be helping, but as the survey shows, over 14% of Queensland drivers may still be risking it.

Voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri make it easier to control core functions without touching your phone such as starting a call, sending a message, and choosing what tune's to listen to on Spotify.

The (Drive-Thru) Wrap Up

With 2021 on track for one of the worst road fatalities in recent times, it’s important to take a look at the causes.

While more intentionally reckless driving such as speeding and drunk driving contributes to the toll, the reality is that many accidents are caused by human error in moments of distraction.

It’s never likely to be a perfect picture of safety on the roads but hopefully with ongoing awareness, initiatives such as mobile phone detection cameras and improved safety features on cars will help distracted driving become less of an issue until the day the machines take over and self driving finally becomes a reality.

Patrick MacDonald
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