Distracted driving: a safety guide for responsible young drivers
Learning to drive is an exciting time in the life of any young person. The freedom and independence which comes from getting behind the wheel is hard to match. New possibilities are suddenly available to you, with reliance on public transport and the help of mum and dad a thing of the past.
Just as with any new responsibilities though, there are also other factors which should be taken into account. Arguably the most important of all is the need to remain safe on the road. One of the biggest challenges comes in the form of distractions.
In this guide, we’ll look to highlight and provide guidance on how to identify and tackle driving distractions, as well as taking a detailed look at the impact they can have on British roads.
Young driver statistics
There are currently 2.97 million young people aged 17-24 in the UK who possess a full license. And while that figure is the lowest on record (down from 3.32m in 2020), it still represents a healthy chunk of the British population.
You may be excited to hit the road, but it's important to remain focused as well. According to Brake, as many as one in five new drivers will crash within a year of taking their test. What’s more, 1,500 young drivers are injured or killed on British roads every year. The World Health Organisation would go as far as to highlight that road accidents are the leading cause of death for young people aged between 5-29.
Research carried out by the Government would go on to highlight why the accident rates were higher amongst younger drivers compared to those with more experience.
Speeding is one of the primary reasons for a higher accident rate, with police records showing some of the most common causes of an accident for a young person to be:
- Careless or reckless driving – 18.8% (of all incidents)
- Travelling too fast for the conditions – 10.7%
- Exceeding the speed limit – 8.4%
Ultimately, 57% of young drivers said they would travel at the highest speed possible while they drove, while just 37% of drivers above the age of 25 would do the same.
Risk factors for younger drivers
As a young driver, you won’t have the same knowledge that other road users might. As such, the chances of having an accident as a result of inexperience are increased. Trigger factors include:
- Speeding. It can be tempting to push the limits and drive fast when you’re new behind the wheel. The freedom might seem exhilarating, but it can also put you in dangerous positions which you might not be experienced enough to navigate safely. What’s more, speeding can result in hefty fines of at least £100, as well as three penalty points on your license.
- Overconfidence. Similarly, the affirmation that you’re ready to head out and drive without supervision can go to the heads of some, albeit not all, newer drivers. This can cause you to underestimate potential impairments (like tiredness and fatigue), take unnecessary risks, have a false heightened sense of control, and develop bad habits which can plague you for years. Where possible, continue to practice and treat new driving experiences with care.
- Carrying passengers. Having a large group of passengers can also result in more conversation or activity while you’re trying to focus on the road. Brake found that you were four times more likely to have an accident when carrying a car full of people of a similar age to you.
- Driving impairments. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is another huge risk on the road. Even small amounts of these substances can impair your abilities. The legal limit for drivers in most of the UK is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or 50 per every 100 in Scotland. The maximum fine for drink driving in the UK is up to 3 months’ imprisonment, a £2,500 fine, and a possible ban from driving.
Different types of distractions on the road
Distractions are without question one of the biggest hurdles which drivers of all ages face. It can sometimes be difficult to stay focused, especially if you’ve been driving for a long period of time.
Let’s take a closer look at some examples of driving distractions and see how each can cause you to lose focus when behind the wheel.
Using smarttech in your car
Playing with a screen (even if it’s one built into a car) is one of the most common ways someone takes their eyes off the road. A study by The Future of Transport found that using Apple CarPlay could reduce your reaction time by as much as 57%. Try to limit things like changing the radio, looking at your GPS, or adjusting any of the other controls.
Using your smart device
While a handy device when away from the car, a mobile phone can be dangerous if allowed to distract a person from the road. What’s more, it’s illegal to hold a phone in your hand when driving.
They physically cause you to move your hand off the wheel, concentrate your mental attention on them instead of the road, and mean your eyes are not looking at what’s ahead of you.
It can be tempting to check a phone or other smart device if we’re expecting an important message. In fact the RAC found as many as 51% of drivers aged 17-24 admitted to texting while driving at least once.
It’s crucial to avoid doing this, as it takes both your eyes and focus away from the road. Whatever the message is, it can wait until you’re safely parked up and ready to engage with your mobile again.
It’s understandable that someone might get hungry when they drive. Doubling down on eating and driving might feel like a wise decision, but it means that your hands are occupied by something other than the wheel and the gearstick. While it’s not illegal to eat when driving, doing so in a manner which causes you to lose control of the wheel can see you slapped with a £100 fine.
Putting on makeup, playing with your hair or even blowing your nose can all divert attention away from where it needs to be. There’s always time to do things like this when you arrive at your destination.
Conversations with passengers
Having a chat while you drive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to not allow it to take your attention away from the task at hand. If you find yourself becoming too engaged with any conversations, remove yourself from them. One survey found that having a challenging interaction with a passenger was a major distraction to as many as 67% of drivers.
Zoning out on familiar roads
When we drive on roads we are very used to, it can be tempting to let our minds wander. In fact, as many as 67% of accidents happen on urban roads. This is a dangerous habit, as it means you’ll be less focused if there’s a need to make a sudden or sharp manoeuvre.
Distracted driving penalties
If you’re found to be driving while using a mobile phone you can get up to 6 penalty points on your license (as well as a £200 fine).
If you passed your driving test within two years of this incident, you will also lose your license.
3 penalty points can also be given if any kind of distraction causes you to not have a full view of the road ahead, or if you’re not totally in control of your vehicle.
As well as this, it’s possible for you to be taken to court, where you can:
Driving safely on the road – how young drivers can manage distractions
While distractions are definitely not something to be taken lightly, the good news is that they can be combated. No matter what type of distraction you find yourself experiencing, there are steps to take to ensure they have less of an impact on your drive. These include:
- Don’t drive when tired. When we’re tired, all of our senses are dulled. That means reaction speeds decrease and cognitive thinking is impaired. As many as 10-20% of worldwide crashes are thought to be as a result of fatigue. Don’t set out if you find yourself feeling drowsy and be sure to pull over and rest for a bit if you begin to feel that way once you’ve already started your journey.
- Don’t eat and drive. Try to eat before you leave, park up in the middle of your journey, or plan to have food when you arrive at your final destination. While it’s a timesaver to eat on the go, it’s not worth the risk of removing one, or both of your hands from the wheel.
- Mobile phones in emergencies only. Make a point of only using a mobile phone in the case of an absolute emergency. Tell yourself before you head out that you won’t be checking the phone until you get to your destination – or are at least parked safely somewhere with the engine off. Remember, using your phone when you drive is illegal, and is never advised.
- Clear out clutter. Driving with a vehicle full of rubbish can be a distraction in itself. Items will roll around, and you’re unlikely to feel particularly calm in an environment which is messy. Princeton University recently highlighted how a cluttered environment can cause you to lose focus, and even wears out your cognitive function over time. A good remedy for this is to make sure you regularly clear out your car. A tidy car makes for a calm, cool and collected state of mind.
- Limit your passengers. If you don’t feel comfortable driving with a full car (whether because of confidence or as a result of feeling distracted), politely tell your friends and family that you have a limit for the number of people you can take. If you clearly lay out your reasons as to why they’ll most likely be understanding and happy to accommodate you. Learn to be a good passenger yourself too and set the right example when you travel in your friends’ cars.
- Never rush. Being late for something isn’t ideal, but it’s better than being involved in an accident because of speeding or reckless driving. Drive as you would normally, even if you have a tight appointment that you’re trying to keep.
- Understand and eliminate common distractions. One of the best ways to cut out distractions is to identify and overcome them before they have the potential to cause an issue. Do some self-reflection and work out what types of issues you most often fall victim to.
- Make sure you have the right insurance. Having the right kind of car insurance can take a huge weight off your mind. This could help to reduce anxiety, which in turn is likely to improve your overall driving performance. Make sure to browse affordable insurance premiums for younger drivers.