Car Care: How to stay alert behind the wheel

By Jack Biddle

Texting is only one of many things that can distract an unwary driver

Using the phone while driving is a recipe for disaster. Photo / Getty Images
Using the phone while driving is a recipe for disaster. Photo / Getty Images

After Driven's editorial on texting and its dangers, I asked the Ministry of Transport for figures on the number of crashes involving drivers whose attention had been diverted from the road ahead.

The ministry's figures are based on information from the Crash Analysis System (CAS), which captures information on about two-thirds of New Zealand's injury crashes and covers the period 2011-2013.

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Of the 3096 accidents it recorded, 2.4 per cent were fatal, 13.6 per cent caused serious injury and 84 per cent were considered minor.

What the numbers and other information also highlight is that while using a phone is a definite factor in driver distraction, it is not the sole reason.

Here is a list of easy checks to help reduce the risk of drivers taking their eyes off the road and losing concentration.

Car mats: If not secured properly, they can become wedged under the foot pedals and create problems for drivers in applying the brakes and operating the accelerator or the clutch.

Leaning down and trying to reposition the mats with your hands or pushing them out of the way with your feet while driving is, like texting, not a clever idea. Secure them properly, or if they are well past their use-by-date, throw them away.

Seat position: If the vehicle is shared by several people, always check the seat position once you have fitted the seatbelt and before you start driving. Trying to manually adjust the seat position forward or backwards while on the move, can result in a a loss of control, especially if the driver has to brake suddenly.

Mirrors: Make a quick check that the positions of the rear vision and side mirrors have not been altered since your last spell behind the wheel, and readjust as required.

Settings: Tune in the audio system, sort out your iPod/USB connection, set your destination and pair in your phone before the trip begins. If you have to reset course or make changes once you are on the move, delegate the job to your passenger or pull over.

Secure gear: Make sure anything placed in the vehicle is secure and not likely to move around especially if driving long distances over changing terrain. If something has moved and is annoying you, pull over and sort it out.

Food and drink: Be organised. Trying to unravel a sandwich from its wrapper or take a hot pie out of its paper bag is a great way to lose concentration on the road. Also, make sure the cup holders are free to do their job and are not being used to store loose change and/or keys, creating instability that can cause that hot coffee to spill.

Rubbish: Keep a small rubbish bag handy to dispose of any waste. It avoids the car floor being used as a dumping ground and creating a distraction if items such as bottles roll under the driver's feet.

Children: As best you can, make sure the young ones don't have to ask for something while travelling that is not within their reach. Turning around to find or pass on a favourite toy etc is a definite no-no.

Footwear: Removing uncomfortable or potentially dangerous footwear before driving is both a sensible and high risk thing to do. Yes, it can give the driver better vehicle control. But if simply kicked off and left to roll around in the driver's foot-well, the discarded footwear can easily become a hazard and create problems similar to a loose floor mat.

Headlights and wipers: Worn wiper rubbers and misaligned headlights can cause a driver to miss-read the conditions, and poorly-aimed headlights can dazzle and distract on-coming drivers.

The Ministry of Transport's Land Transport Safety manager, Leo Mortimer, said talking to passengers, eating and drinking, reaching or searching for objects in the vehicle were among hazardous distractions for drivers.

"Staying safe on the road requires concentration, so it's important to keep distractions to a minimum," he said.

"Keeping your eyes on the road and remaining focussed on the driving task is something all drivers must do.

"Friends and family can also help by not distracting drivers -- in the car, or on the phone".

- NZ Herald

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