Regular readers will be well aware that I regard driver inattention as being the number one cause of car crashes. I witness inattentive drivers wandering all over the road every day, whether I’m road testing cars, attending new-vehicle launches, or simply going about my normal daily stuff.

These readers will also know that I seriously disagree with the term ‘driver distraction’ being used in place of the words ‘driver inattention’. Distraction is something that takes you by surprise and pulls your attention away from driving. Inattention is when a driver deliberately chooses to focus on something other than driving.

Some hard figures on driver inattention have just come to light from a study conducted by Galaxy Research on behalf of Woolworths Insurance. The stats are truly horrifying.

Galaxy used a representative sample of 1022 respondents, distributed throughout Australia, including both capital city and non-capital city areas, aged 18-64 years. The latter seemed a little odd to me as I’m no longer in that age bracket, and feel I can become inattentive just as easily now as in previous years, perhaps even more so – just ask my wife…

The research reveals that a staggering 91 per cent of Australian drivers are multitasking when they are at the wheel. Nearly half of all drivers surveyed (48%) admit to knowingly breaking the law by using their mobile phone to make calls whilst driving, and 38% look at navigation systems on their phones.

Other findings show that while driving: 83% of motorists eat or drink; 64% of women admit to rummaging through handbags; 42% performing childcare duties; 20% of women put on makeup in traffic; and (love this one!) 12 percent change their clothes in the car; 8% of men admit to shaving when they are in the driver’s seat.

Many drivers justified their actions, saying they only multitask while stationary in traffic jams (33%) or because they are running late (31%). Scarily, 15 percent of drivers actually plan multitasking at the wheel as a normal part of their routine.

While the vast majority of drivers (95%) agree that multitasking is distracting and can increase the risk of a crash, just under one fifth (18%) of drivers surveyed actually boast about their skill at multitasking behind the wheel and a further 10 percent don’t see their behaviour as causing any harm.

In what at first appears to be a strange statement, Woolworths Insurance says, “Drivers are risking their chances of being involved in an accident, and driving up their insurance premiums.”

My first thought was, “Surely having a crash is far more serious than paying more for insurance?” Then I remembered that research done elsewhere shows that 98% of drivers think they are better than average, and that they will never cause a crash.

So it makes a lot of sense for Woolies to talk of the hit to the hip pocket to get drivers’ attention. Get their attention, get it!

Regulars out there will also recognise my oft-repeated safe driving mantra: always have two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road and all of your attention on the road.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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