The Straits Times says

Risk of being driven to distraction

Despite a law against driving under the influence of distracting technology, which came into effect in February last year, 3,011 motorists were caught flouting it last year. Most likely, many more cases involving the use of mobile devices while driving went undetected. It's all the more inexcusable as the law offers scope for their responsible use in vehicles: mobile phones, tablets or GPS navigation units that are mounted on a holder or the dashboard may be used on the go. Yet many choose to put not just themselves but also others in danger by holding a mobile device - to chat, text, e-mail or download content - while driving down expressways or busy roads.

Periodic safety campaigns and exercises to enforce rules elsewhere have helped to lower the number of such violations over the long term. But in between, inveterate motorists have been observed to revert to old habits. There is cause, therefore, to take a stricter line with repeat offenders in general and those who drive buses or heavy vehicles in particular.

Such driving habits must be taken seriously for sound reasons. In the United States, it was observed that at least one driver was distracted in 15 to 30 per cent of motor accidents. And distracted drivers were held responsible for 10 per cent of all road fatalities. Both are conservative estimates as many instances of distraction go unrecorded. In one US study, drivers were found to be distracted between a quarter and half of their time on the road, and two-thirds of them admitted using their mobile phone while driving.

Distractions can be manual, visual, auditory or cognitive and their sources are everywhere - potential hazards to be avoided on and alongside roads, and various gadgets within vehicles to draw the gaze of motorists. Yet there are those who insist on doing multiple tasks behind the wheel - like taking business calls, sending messages, talking to passengers, eating, drinking, reading, or even grooming themselves. When one's attention is fragmented in many different ways, it's a mistake to assume that technology can make risks more acceptable. Speaker phones, wireless headsets, and voice to text apps offer great convenience, but these can also draw one's mind away from blind spots, fast-moving hazards and sudden changes in traffic conditions. Driving calls for undivided attention simply because the consequences of errors can be calamitous.

Common sense dictates that one should pull over rather than juggle tasks, when it's not possible to get a passenger's assistance. But whether or not there are short-term waiting bays available for drivers to make urgent calls, there will always be some who will think nothing of the risks involved as they twiddle with their phones while driving a vehicle. Technology like Google Glass will only get more immersive; drivers must resist.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Risk of being driven to distraction'. Print Edition | Subscribe