Driven to distraction

Driven to distraction

Technical Director | Tachograph Analysis Consultants Ltd

Rule 144 of the Highway Code reads drivers “must not drive dangerously, drive without due care and attention or drive without reasonable consideration for other road users”.1 As drivers, we all know the best way to drive. However, we also know that despite our best intentions, we do not always drive as safely as we could, or perhaps should.

In the event of an incident, for larger vehicles (goods and passenger) that have a tachograph fitted, this instrument can be an invaluable source of information. Not only can it provide details of the breaks and daily rest recorded by the driver, it can also give detailed information of how the vehicle was being driven, how fast the recordings show the vehicle was accelerating and decelerating etc.

These are all factual details recorded by a sophisticated and calibrated instrument. Whilst the tachograph gives an important and clinical view of events, there may be other factors, of critical importance, and are perhaps not quite so quantifiable.

What about using a mobile phone? Does that affect the way we drive? Does how much sleep we had before driving have any bearing on our driving.

We all know not to drive with a mobile phone in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Yet how many times do we see that happening? Mobile phones are used with ubiquity. They have become a natural and inextricable part of our lives - whilst driving or not. They are so familiar. So surely they cannot be such a ‘distraction’?

Research2 3  reveals some facts about using a mobile phone, hand-held or hands-free, while driving:

  • Drivers who use phones have been found to be four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries than drivers not distracted;
  • Drivers on phones are more likely to be blame-worthy in crashes;
  • After interacting with (an information system) a phone or other device, it can take nearly half a minute to regain full attention;
  • Drivers are more likely to:

-        miss road signs;

-        fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed;

-        react more slowly, take longer to brake and longer to stop;

-        be less aware of what is happening on the road around them;

  • Surveys suggest drivers aged 18-35 are the age group most likely to read and respond when behind the wheel.
  • At-work drivers make up one in three fatal crashes on UK roads.

How many of us have looked, though not really seen? Any risk is not significantly reduced by using a hands-free mobile phone. The risk typically results from the ‘distraction’ of a two way conversation (different from the one-way action of listening to the radio).

In 2015, being ‘distracted’ while driving caused 1,469 fatal crashes in across the UK.4  Forty per cent of all prosecutions for careless driving involve drivers using hands-free mobile phones. One in five serious/fatal accidents involve mobile phones.

Dashcam footage revealed a driver changing music on a mobile phone moments before a collision took place.5 A collision that killed a mother and her three children when the lorry driver collided with their stationary car on the A34 in August 2016. A salutary reminder of the dire consequences of the significant ‘mobile phone problem’.

The prosecution of that lorry driver galvanised opinion and distracted drivers came to the fore. In September 2016, the Transport Secretary announced the law would change to increase the number of points and level of fine drivers will receive if caught using a mobile phone whilst driving. As of March this year, drivers are now issued with an instant £200 fine and six points on their licences.6 Within the first four weeks of the law changing, around 6,000 drivers were caught by police using a mobile phone at the wheel, equating to more than 200 a day.7

Vehicle manufacturers have started to take action as well, with Nissan designing a prototype called ‘Signal Shield’ - essentially a box built into the armrest of the driver seat to store mobile phones while driving to block out mobile, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals from coming through.8

Mobile phones are only one source of distraction - there are others including eating and drinking, smoking, not to mention other electronic interactive technology on board today’s modern vehicles. And there are other factors too, that can influence distraction. How many of us have turned the radio up and wound the window down as we have felt our heads jerk, and wondered just how long we have been ‘asleep’ - and just how far we have travelled - while (‘unconsciously’) driving.

There are sleep disorders we all need to be aware of. And does our lifestyle of late nights and early mornings contribute to that feeling of general fatigue?

We must all be more aware of the factors that can influence our driving and what could be held as contributory factors to an incident or accident.

This vigilance of ‘distractions’ also applies to employers. As a matter of course following an incident, tachograph and satellite navigation records can be reviewed by enforcement authorities, together with mobile phone records, lifestyle etc. And this, with perhaps the subsequent scrutiny of company mobile phone and other policies. Required use of a mobile phone whilst driving, for example, could place the employer in a situation of possible prosecution.

In addition to compliance and detailed incident tachograph analysis, there can be significant benefits to mobile phone use (breaking down on the motorway etc) and other modern technology, whilst at work. However, sensible, strict policies may not only save a prosecution - it may also save a life.

Tachograph Analysis Consultants Limited (TACL) have been providing advice and support for more than 30 years in the area of incident and accident analysis, compliance policies etc. Do your policies pass modern muster? Give TACL a call to find out - contact details below.

For further information, contact Dr Nigel E Kirkwood at Tachograph Analysis Consultants Ltd on Tel: 01704 894555, email: or visit:



2   Road Safety Fact Sheet, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, April, 2017.