Weapons of mass drive distraction

PETALING JAYA: Although road safety regulations and traffic laws may not outright prohibit putting on make-up, drinking or eating while driving, indulging in any of these can still lead to distracted driving, say experts.

Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) chairman Dr Wong Shaw Voon said that “distracted driving” is an important road safety concern because it diverts the driver’s attention from the road and increases the risk of accidents.

“Activities that take a driver’s attention away from driving, even a fleeting glance at the road, can have serious consequences.

“Undoubtedly, many motorists feel competent and ‘practice’ to the point where they are competent enough to respond to a text message, eat, apply make-up, or take a sip of water, while holding the steering wheel with one hand.

“When you think you are capable enough to drive with one hand and do other things with the other, you are compromising the safety of other road users,” he said when contacted.

Wong also said that motorists should be careful when reaching for multiple control buttons or screens in their vehicles, as they can also take their eyes off the road, even for a moment.

He said according to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, modern car designs often include various controls and features within easy reach of the driver with the aim of reducing distractions and enhancing safety while driving.

He said these designs are intended to ensure drivers can operate essential functions, such as climate controls, audio systems, and infotainment screens, without taking their eyes off the road for long periods of time or too far from the steering wheel.

“It is important to note that although these controls are designed to be easily accessible, drivers must still exercise caution and use them responsibly.

“Interacting with any device or control inside the car, even if it is within easy reach, can still be a form of distracted driving if it diverts the driver’s attention from the road,” he added.

He advised motorists to mitigate the risks by familiarizing themselves with the location and functions of the controls to minimize time spent fiddling with them.

“Use voice commands or hands-free features to interact with infotainment systems and phone calls.

“Limit non-essential features while driving, such as adjusting detailed settings on the infotainment system or searching for specific music tracks, and prioritize driving and focus on the road and traffic conditions at all times,” he said when asked to comment on a recent case in which a woman was fined for driving while using a phone placed on her lap.

Here, Wong says that the act of putting the phone on the lap is a form of distracted driving.

“When you put the phone on your lap, you have to look down, taking your eyes off the road. This action diverts your attention from driving and can significantly increase the risk of accidents.

“Distracted driving, including using a phone while driving, is a leading cause of road accidents,” he said, reminding drivers to use a phone holder or mount to keep the phone at eye level and within easy reach.

Wong also called on drivers to use hands-free technology when making or receiving calls so they can keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, while activities such as texting or using apps while driving are a definite no-no.

“If you must use your phone, pull over to a safe location and stop the vehicle before using the device.

“When you’re behind the wheel, your main focus should be safe driving,” he said.

On smoking, Wong said if a lit cigarette accidentally falls on clothing or inside the vehicle during the impact of an accident, it can cause burns or catch fire inside the vehicle, causing additional danger.

Apart from this, he said the deployment of airbags during an accident can also cause complications if a lit cigarette or any solid object blocks the airbag.

Using the phone as a driving navigator, Wong said drivers should enter the destination before setting off, rather than fiddling with it on the road.

“Some people will say that driving long distances with mobile phone navigation drains the battery and they only turn on the navigation closer to the destination, which means you have to operate the phone while driving.

“For safety, please stop the car to do this,” he added.


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