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Distractions a major danger for SA drivers

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There are many vices, other than talking on a cell phone while driving, likely to distract the driver and cause an accident.
This is the word from Karien Venter, who works at the CSIR Built Environment Transport Systems and Operations on road safety and traffic management, discussing a pilot project which highlights the potential dangers for drivers at the 35th Southern African Transport Conference in Pretoria.
Although the pilot project only collected data from four drivers over a six-month period, it is interesting to note that all the drivers in this pilot project showed signs of being distracted while driving.
“It will be interesting to determine if inattentive driving has become the norm rather than the exception among South African drivers,” says Venter. “Internationally, the role that inattention and distraction plays in crashes and near-crashes has received a lot of attention. Using electronic equipment while driving, talking to passengers, grooming as well as eating and drinking, all influence driver behaviour.
“Indications from the private sector are that distracted driving is probably a major problem in South Africa. Discovery Insure stated that through its Discovery Insure Driving Challenge (DIDC) programme, the data collected shows that on average each cell phone equates to 52 seconds of distracted driving.
“The company also stated that when driving at 60km per hour these few seconds is equivalent to driving blind making crashes four times more likely to occur. In addition, the research found that the worst 20% of offending South African drivers use their phones for an average of three minutes per trip.”
Currently, only mobile phone use while driving is considered as problematic in South Africa. However, from the findings it is clear drivers also engage in other secondary activities while driving. The frequency with which these activities occurred as well as the amount of time spent on them could potentially be more distracting and dangerous than mobile phone use when driving.
“This project, as part of a larger research and development plan, aims to intensify and renew the focus on behavioural research in the country,” Venter says. “These findings could assist law enforcement agencies in developing targeted road safety campaigns aimed at changing driver behaviour.”