As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

What Distracts Drivers?

There are a number of arguments made in favour of raising the speed limit and not getting too picky about km/h.  My fellow bloggers have explored this topic considerably (here’s one example).  However, the fact still remains that if things turn pear-shaped, less speed means less momentum, which means less force that gets transferred to the occupants of the car.  If all goes well and everybody keeps their mind on their driving, speed doesn’t really matter. The trouble is, people don’t keep their mind on their driving, their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road ahead. They get distracted, and that’s where things start going pear-shaped.


According to one insurance expert in the USA, the top ten distractions that contributed to fatal crashes were the following:

  • 1 Generally being away with the pixies, daydreaming or being more interested in your train of thought than the road in front of you (or beside you). This is particularly likely to crop up on long straight stretches of road with monotonous scenery in rural areas, although some people have minds elsewhere even in rural areas on familiar routes. This is something that they can’t legislate against (how on earth could they police it?) and car manufacturers can’t really do anything about either safety-wise.
  • 2 Using cell phones for anything – talking, dialling, texting, listening, going online and checking Facebook…
  • 3 Something interesting outside the window. This could range from stunningly beautiful scenery to the car you’ve always wanted up for sale (did I really read the price on that red Porsche Boxster correctly – I’ve just gotta have another look…).
  • 4 Other people in the car talking to you or otherwise distracting you. It was not recorded how many of those “other people” were children whining, fighting or otherwise throwing a wobbly.
  • 5 Using or reaching for some gadget that you’ve brought into the car – headphones, maps, iPod, etc.
  • 6 Eating and drinking. Again, exactly what was being eaten or drunk wasn’t recorded, but a can of fizzy drink erupting all over you while you’re driving is certainly pretty distracting.  Ditto having a hot meat pie that oozes scalding mince all over your fingers and lap.
  • 7 Adjusting the audio system and/or the climate control.  If you have a front seat passenger, get him or her to do it.
  • 8 Adjusting or using other gadgets that are integral parts of the car (rear vision mirrors, seats, navigation systems, trip computers).
  • 9 An animal moving around inside the car, be it a pet or an insect. Hopefully not a snake that’s decided that the inside of your car is a lovely place to have a quiet rest. It’s best to keep pets confined somehow or else ignore them. Cats should go in a carrier box even if they like riding in cars like one of mine does. Dogs can get harnesses that seat belts can slip through to keep them in place, but these tend to be for medium to dogs – bull terrier and upwards.  The carrying crate is probably best for little dogs as well, although if you have a small yappy dog that hates the crate, the resulting barking in protest is likely to be even more distracting.
  • 10 Smoking – including lighting up and disposing of the butts.  This is the ideal cue for a lecture about the hazards of smoking in general, the specific hazards of smoking inside a car and all the reasons why you should not throw cigarette butts out of the window. However, if I did, this post would triple in length and get off topic.


A similar list comes from a bit closer to home than the USA.  On the other side of the Tasman, the top ten distractions are much the same:

  • 1 Texting while driving (even though this is illegal in NZ)
  • 2 Reading the newspaper or a magazine
  • 3 Applying makeup, shaving or carrying out other personal grooming
  • 4 Talking on a handheld mobile phone rather than a hands-free one
  • 5 Changing or adjusting the sound system
  • 6 Using the GPS system
  • 7 Eating and drinking
  • 8 Children in the car
  • 9 Talking on the phone using a hands-free kit
  • 10 Billboards, advertising, attractive people and other things outside the car.

But what about us?  I’ll admit to eating and drinking, kids in the back seat (although older ones in the front can be told to take care of the navigation, the sound system and the air-con system), getting away with the pixies and things outside the car.  What pulls your attention from driving?  Leave us a reply with your top distractors.