Is Eating While Driving  A Distraction?


Last week, a driver was pulled over by our men in the Federal Capital Territory for using his phone while driving. An interesting argument ensued between the driver who claims to be Israeli and the patrol team leader. The driver engaged the patrol team on what he understood to mean driving and using the phone. He told them that contrary to their claim, that he was not using the phone but that he was merely holding on to the phone and driving. He also informed the team that in his hometown, drivers are allowed to drive holding on to their phone. In his response, the smart patrol team leader politely told him that the traffic laws in Nigeria differ from those of his hometown. He went further to ask him if he truly understands the driving rules of engagement as contained in the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 which prohibits using your phone while driving and other distracted driving behaviors?.

Continuining, the officer rhetorically asked the driver if he is aware of Regulations 103 which forbids a driver from smoking or eating or drinking. According to the Regulations, ‘the driver of a taxi, stage carriage omnibus or any other vehicle shall not smoke, eat or drink while driving ‘Besides the driver, the same Regulations forbid even the passengers from smoking. According to Regulations 107,(h)no person shall while travelling in or upon a stage carriage or omnibus, smoke or carry a lighted pipe, cigar or cigarette in any part of the vehicle whether or not  a notice prohibiting smoking is exhibited in the vehicle.Knowing that he had humbled the driver with these questions, he reminded him of the appropriate driving position especially with respect to holding your steering. I don’t know how long you have been driving and how you handle your steering but please indulge me to bore you a little on steering handling at all times, including during the rains. The vogue on our major roads including the cities is to find a good number of drivers who hold the steering with one hand, eat, or phone, with the other. Some others would choose to rest their right arm on the front passenger’s headrest even under the rain.

 The driver in question today was driving and clutching his phone which he claimed he was not using for which I quickly injected that maybe he was about to take a selfie, flash, or whatever. The correct posture is to hold your steering wheel with both hands except when shifting gear lever or giving signals. The recommended way is to hold the steering on nearly opposite sides in a position termed “ten-to-two” derived from the clock hand positions at ten minutes to two o’clock, that is, 01.50 or 13.50 hours. It is a traffic offence to drive with one hand only.All of these provisions are meant to guard against the risks inherent in distracted driving which  is a leading factor in many crashes, and cell phone use and texting are two of the most common distractions.Globally laws that addresses these like the one cited earlier support restrictions of all electronic device.

Researches on distracted driver maintains that often drivers are distracted and that distraction impacts driver performance . the findings further maintains that distractions affect driving performance;drivers frequently are distracted, perhaps as much as half the time,distractions are estimated to be associated with 15 to 25 percent of crashes at all levels.Texting likely increases crash risk more than cell phone use.Based on the existing research, the report urges use low-cost engineering solutions such as edgeline and centerline rumble stripes to alert motorists who may drift,record distracted driving in crash reports and evaluate other distracted driving laws and programs.

There are many distractions which may prevent a driver from focusing on the complex task of driving: changing the radio or a CD, talking to passengers, observing an event outside the vehicle, using an electronic device, etc..

 Like I once wrote on this page,crashes involving distracted driving injured more than half a million people in 2008 in the Unites States of America. Deadly driving habits kills nearly 6,000 Americans a year while Car crashes are the leading killer of youths in America –they kill an average of 11 teens each day. As US Secretary ofTransportation Ray LaHood says, ‘‘the mother who lost children,the children who lost mothers. You want no part of that kind of loss.Talking on the phone while driving causes as much impairment as drunk driving- its like driving after you have taken 4 beers and if you are texting while driving, you are 23 times as likely to get into a crash. In the US, nearly a third of all crashes are caused bydrivers who are either talking on cell phones or texting.Studies have shown that  drivers who use their cell phones for talking or texting have much slower response times than those who do not.They also have slower reaction timesthan people with blood alcohol levels of 0.08.Studies have also shown that poeple who talk and drive at the same timesare four times likely to crash.Those who text and drive are twenty times more likely to have an accident.While the dangers of phoning or texting behind the wheels is undisputed, laws that ban texting while driving have not reduced the number of crashes across four states in the US according to a study, but a slight increase in road accidents has been recorded.

The Highway Loss Data Institute compared the insurance claims in four states of California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington before and after the texting ban, with those in nearby states that don’t have these laws. After the bans, crash patterns varied from 1% more crashes in Washington to about 9% more in Minnesota, and the largest crash increase (12%) after the texting ban was among young drivers in California.

The researchers have calculated rates of collision claims for vehicles up to nine years old during the months before and after driver texting was banned. The study shows crashes have increased in three states after the bans were enacted, which indicates that bans could increase the risk of crashing for drivers who continue to text despite the laws. The study notes noncompliance as the key reason for the increase in crashes as young drivers among 18-24 years are most likely to text with 45% saying they do so in states that ban texting. It pointed out that the bans are ineffective as 48% of drivers admitted to texting in states without bans.