Saturday, May 30, 2015Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dangers of driving and distraction

Published on Aug 9, 2014 7:17 AM

A mundane legislative tweak to the Road Traffic Act proposed in Parliament this week points to important aspects of driver behaviour that warrant closer scrutiny. People tend to drive in potentially risky ways, scarcely pausing to reflect on their own habits. The rootstock of such behaviour is widespread overconfidence, which researchers have described as "perhaps the most robust finding in the psychology of judgment". This has shown up consistently among drivers surveyed in several nations, whatever their age, gender, educational level and occupation group. The tendency to underestimate risks is also pronounced in the use of mobile devices while driving.

The legal amendment seeks to make it an offence for anyone to operate a mobile phone or tablet in any manner while holding the device and driving. Calling and texting with the phone in one hand and driving with the other is already bookable. Surfing, gaming, downloading and such are to be captured too. The intention is to flag the potential danger of multitasking while at the wheel. Yet, misplaced confidence in one's driving ability might induce the tech-savvy to place the mobile device in a holder or on his or her lap to technically avoid committing the offence, which specifies the holding of a gadget while driving.

Framing the law more strictly might appear oppressive, given the widespread use of gadgets including GPS navigation tools. Hence, alongside incremental changes to traffic laws, there should be a sustained effort to educate drivers.

Essentially, all distractions can be hazardous. Perceptual "blindness" can result when drivers are not adequately processing or remembering what their eyes are taking in because the mind is occupied with another activity; and "tunnel vision" is possible when they stare straight ahead and do not actively look around. In the United States, nine in 10 rear-end collisions took place when the driver behind looked away for a mere three seconds preceding the accident. Texting might take no more than five seconds, but at 90 kmh this would mean travelling the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Enjoy 2 weeks of unlimited digital access to The Straits Times. Get your free access now!