Unit 2

Attention and distractions

Attention and distractions Attention and distractions

Take note:

  • This is the most common cause of accidents for drivers aged between 18 and 27.
  • Distraction, as a cause of accidents, has increased by 74 percent over the last decade.
  • It is responsible for four out of every ten accidents in Spain.
  • The three most frequent distractions are smoking, applying makeup and looking at other accidents.

What is attention? What is distraction?

Attention is the ability to perceive, organize and manage the information generated by our immediate surroundings. Attention at the wheel falls into three categories:

“Selective”: The need to discriminate between different stimuli. For example, distinguishing between the entrance sign to a gas station and one that prohibits overtaking.

“Sustained”: One way or another, attention needs to be maintained at all times, but occasionally even more intensely. If you see a sign saying “roadworks in 3 km”, you need to pay particular attention.

“Divided”: You need to be alert to many things. For example, a good driver can be aware of the car's rev counter and what is happening ahead of and behind the car at the same time as holding a conversation.

The opposite of attention is distraction. Technically, distraction is a stimulus that diverts your attention away from what you are doing, in this case, driving. We can get distracted during class, while speaking to our partner or during a football game, but being distracted while driving is dangerous, very dangerous.

Reasonable concentration

A human being's capacity for attention is not infinite, and the more we split it between activities, the less we focus on any one of them. We suggest trying this simple test: play your favorite video game and at the same time try to hold a conversation on your mobile phone or send a text message. What happens? Well, the game's villain will "kill" you in no time at all. But if being "killed", in inverted commas, happens as easily as it does in a video game, at the steering wheel you are going to kill yourself or others, but without the inverted commas.

The consequences of distraction

We would like to convince you using facts, so we have created a table which shows some typical examples of distraction at the wheel. We have assumed the optimum circumstances so that you can appreciate the sole and exclusive consequences of distraction. Let's suppose you are driving on a highway, during the day, fully alert and going at 100 km/h. Even if you are paying attention, in an emergency situation, there will be a 0.4 second delay before you apply the brakes. In the situation we describe, we have assumed the necessity of stopping the car completely. Look what happens when you are distracted:

Speed Type of distraction Estimated time Meters traveled before reacting Total meters before the car stops
100 km/h None 0.4 11 71
100 km/h Adjusting the radio 3.0 93 153
100 km/h Lighting a cigarette 4.0 122 182
100 km/h Dialing a phone number 8.0 233 293
100 km/h Sending a text message 12.0 344 404

Do you know anything about football? No? Don't worry, you don't need to, but we're sure you have a pretty good idea of the size of a football field. Well, at 100 km/h, lighting a cigarette represents traveling the distance from one set of goalposts to the other and back before stopping the car, getting distracted by sending a text message is like running blind up and down the same football field four times!

Why do we get distracted?

Even though you love driving, in certain conditions it can become boring, routine and repetitive. Imagine driving along a straight highway with no traffic at 120 km/h over a long period; it's easy to get distracted. But danger exists even on the safest highway, and simply having an animal cross the road can cause an accident.

There are many things outside the car that distract us (an advertisement, a stunning view, an accident in the other lane, etc.), but there are many more dangerous distractions inside the car that also break our concentration (a phone call, changing radio stations, drinking water, and so on).

Experience is always an advantage, but did you know that most accidents, and the most serious ones, occur during the second year of driving? Experience is essential, but we cannot afford to relax. Believing yourself to be a good or infallible driver sows the seed of an accident. Don't drop your guard, no matter how experienced or skillful you are. If you don't pay attention, you will never be a good driver.

The importance of the passenger

From the passenger seat you can also contribute greatly to road safety. A good conversation on general everyday topics (the weather, music, sport, etc.) “distracts” drivers in a positive way, as they remain awake and alert. But beware of getting into deep conversations on "heavy" subjects and starting arguments.

You can help by opening a bottle of water, changing the radio station, map-reading, looking out for the required exit, etc. We can assure you that a good passenger who is motivated and knowledgeable about driving is very important and contributes to road safety.