The dangers of distracted driving: how to become more mindful this festive season

The opposite of being mindful is being distracted, careless and thoughtless. When this happens on the road, the results can prove fatal. Here's why it's crucial to give driving your full attention, and tips to help.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States estimates that people are distracted by secondary activities 30% of the time while driving. That's a lot, considering serious consequences can come about from just a few seconds of carelessness on the road.

80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction that reduces driving safety. Committing to driving distraction-free is not easy, yet with statistics telling us that we're more likely to have an accident when distracted, many drivers are making an effort.

Safety tips for families with kids

Anyone who has kids knows that driving with them brings about an unpredictable set of distractions, and motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of accidental death in children aged 14 and under. Families should practice the follow safety tips on every ride:

  • First up are seatbelts. Buckle up every time, no matter how short the trip.
  • Children 12 and under should be properly restrained in a back seat. Although airbags can save lives, kids riding in a front seat can be seriously injured or killed when an airbag comes out in a crash.
  • Choose the right safety seat and belt for your child's size and age.
  • Infants should ride in rear-facing safety seats until they're at least 12 months old and weigh a minimum of 9 kilograms.
  • Children who are one year old and older, and weigh between 9 and 18 kilograms should ride in forward-facing safety seats.
  • Children over 18 kilograms should be correctly secured in belt-positioning boosters, or other appropriate restraints, until the adult lap and shoulder belts fit correctly, which is usually around age 8.

When passengers include pets

As the driver of the vehicle, you shouldn't be distracted by any fellow passengers, including animals.

  • If an accident happens, a restraining device will prevent your furry friend from crashing into the front window or the car seat.
  • Net pet barriers, available in different sizes, keep animals safe and secure, so they can't distract you when driving.
  • Truly pampered pets can ride in style next to you in booster seats. These seats are supported from below, so your pet has a great view and a comfortable ride.

Say no to knob-turning

There's a set of distractions known as knob-turning. Whenever you turn a knob, pull a lever, push a button or swipe a screen, you're distracted by mechanics inside your vehicle.

  • Develop a habit of fixing your mirrors before you start driving.
  • Also fix your seat: adjust the lumbar, your headrest and bring the steering wheel down. Some upscale vehicles even have programmable buttons for seat positions.
  • Use the automation in your car. Take time to learn the navigation system features, and to pre-programme radio stations.
  • Keep your eyes on the road so you stay in your lane and improve your reaction time.
  • And remember, cellphone use is not just a visual distraction, it's a cognitive one. The good news is that many drivers now use hands-free kits, though this can also be a distraction.

Be wary of following the sound

Noises and sounds inside your vehicle could cause you to fall in a trap known as 'following the sound'. When your cellphone rings, your kids are watching a DVD inside the car, or even the radio has your attention, you're distracted. (When you're listening to a sound inside your engine, you're not really distracted because then you're listening to an equipment problem.)

Whether it's a phone, an on-board DVD player or a GPS, if you're not willing to do without these technologies in the car, then try turning down the volume.

Consider distractions from outside your vehicle

  • When you drive, you're constantly scanning your environment outside the vehicle as part of your defensive driving habit. As you scan, you might be visually distracted by the scenery outside your window. Other than refusing to avert your eyes from the road in front of you, which is hardly a reasonable option, it's best to keep your glances short.
  • Sounds outside the car can also be a distraction, especially loud hooting. It's natural to follow the sound with your gaze - just remember to quickly refocus on the road.
  • If the sound is coming from your own car, then pull over and investigate when it's safe to do so.

Whether the distraction is inside or outside your vehicle, your readiness to lose focus will influence how successful you are at keeping it. The best solution is to develop a state of awareness that makes you almost resistant to distractions. Being consciously more mindful is key to becoming a better and safer driver.

As part of ensuring you and your family’s safety, it is worthwhile to note these emergency numbers:

Nationwide flying squad 101111

Nationwide fire brigade 10177

Netcare 911 082 911

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