Distracted and inattentive driving

The 2022 RACQ Annual Road Safety Report found 28% of Queensland drivers admit to driving while doing a task that would interfere with their ability to safely operate their car. And more than 89% of Queenslanders believe distracted driving is a bigger problem now than it was five years ago. So, what is driver distraction, how dangerous is it, and what can you do to stay focused when you’re behind the wheel?

What is driver distraction?

There’s no such thing as multi-tasking while you drive. That’s because driver distraction is defined as anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off driving.

All drivers engage in distracting activity while they are driving, and drivers can be distracted by things both inside and outside of their vehicles. Calming a distressed child in the back seat, using maps, staring at a traffic incident or calling a friend are all activities that interfere with safe driving.

How dangerous is distracted driving?

According to the 2022 RACQ Annual Road Safety Report, 92% of respondents believe that driver distraction is a problem in Queensland, and they’re right. Every distraction delays driver reactions, increases the likelihood of missing potential hazards and compromises safety.

In fact, the Queensland Government’s Street Smarts initiative states that distracted driving is as dangerous as drink driving:

“Research shows a driver’s reaction time is comparable to a drink driver with a blood alcohol reading between 0.07 and 0.107.”

What are the effects of distracted driving?

Distracted driving is dangerous for the driver, their passengers, and other road users. On average, 29 Queenslanders die and 1284 are hospitalised every year due to crashes where distracted driving or riding plays a part.

Types of driver distraction

When Queenslanders think of driver distraction, most of us think of mobile phones. In fact, the 2022 RACQ Annual Road Safety Survey found that 86% of people believe that mobile phones are the main reason driver distraction is becoming more of a problem than it was in the past.

There are, however, many ways drivers can become distracted. Driver distraction falls into three categories: visual, physical and cognitive distraction. Many behaviours are a combination of these distraction types, which increases how dangerous they are.

When it comes to driving, one thing is clear: multi-tasking is a myth.

Visual distraction

Visual distraction is taking your eyes off the road, e.g. looking at a mobile phone to read a text message. Visual distraction goes hand in hand with most distracted behaviours.

Did you know: 58.8% of drivers self-report viewing or entering GPS settings while driving.

Physical distraction

Physical distraction involves taking your hands off the steering wheel, e.g. to adjust stereo controls or eat food.

Did you know: 7.2% of drivers self-report taking both hand/s off the steering wheel and their eyes off the road because they’ve been distracted by a child in the car.

Cognitive distraction

Cognitive distraction happens when your attention is taken away from the driving task, e.g. talking to passengers or listening to podcasts. Cognitive distraction usually accompanies physical and visual distractions.

Did you know: 78.7% of Queenslanders self-report being distracted by audio entertainment.

How to reduce driver distraction

While all drivers are susceptible to being distracted, it is possible to train ourselves to choose more appropriate times to deal with distractions.

Tips for drivers:

  • Recognise distractions (e.g. phone ringing, talking passengers) and say ‘not now’
  • Put your phone on ‘Do not disturb’ while you’re driving
  • Set up and start your GPS, music or podcast before you start driving
  • Set up a phone cradle attached to the vehicle in a safe place for hands-free permitted uses
  • Give yourself enough time before you leave to put on makeup, shave or do your hair
  • Make it a rule to never eat or keep snacks in your car
  • Ensure that children and pets are safely restrained

Tips for passengers

  • Avoid stressful or emotional conversations with drivers
  • Assist with identifying potential hazards
  • Respect the driver’s need to concentrate

Our distracted driving priorities

At RACQ, we aim to make sure that all drivers stop multi-tasking. We do this by:

  • Educating drivers on both the risks of distracted driving and ways to manage and reduce distractions (physical, visual, cognitive) while driving.
  • Continuing to support education campaigns in coordination with appropriate and timely enforcement activities targeting sources of driver distraction.
  • Advocating for legislation, regulations and standards to keep pace with the introduction and use of devices in vehicles that potentially distract drivers.
  • Advocating for better enforcement of current laws relating to mobile phone use while driving and educating the community on the general distraction resulting from mobile phone use (hands-free or otherwise).
  • Continuing to research the types of driver distraction and their impacts on driving.

While you're here

Things to note

The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.