Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: One in three motorists in the UAE admit to being distracted while driving, a survey released on Tuesday revealed.

Thirty-four per cent of 1,007 drivers surveyed in June said their concentration levels dip while driving due to various distractions on the road and inside vehicles, according to research conducted by global insurer Zurich and RoadSafetyUAE.com.

An alarming 43 per cent or almost half of young motorists aged between 18 and 24 said their attention is not always focused on driving.

Distracted driving increases chances of a road crash. Interestingly, nearly half of the respondents said they were aware of this fact.

The survey revealed that motorists get distracted the most by the behaviour of other drivers, followed by people talking to them and tweaking controls in the car. Poorly behaved children inside the car also distract 34 per cent of the respondents.

Thomas Edelman, founder of RoadSafetyUAE.com, said drivers tend to misjudge traffic situations when distracted. They could easily swerve lanes and drive too close to vehicles in front without realising it.

“Motorists must actively reflect on the distractions that they are most prone to succumb to and then actively combat those distractions,” Edelman said.

Brian Reilly, CEO of Zurich Insurance Middle East, said the figures are troubling since people have limited ability to process information at any one time.

Sudden swerving due to lack of attention on the road killed more than 40 people last year, according to figures from Dubai Police.

Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Operations’ Affairs and Chairman of the Federal Traffic Council, in April proposed creating a new law to punish distracted drivers.

A Gulf News team randomly surveyed UAE roads in February this year. The team spotted couples cuddling while driving and motorists eating and drinking while on the move. Using mobile phones — both calling and texting — was the most common traffic violation.

Surprisingly, the use of mobile phones was way down on the list of top 10 distractions drivers cited in the survey. Only 30 per cent of the respondents viewed mobile phones as a distraction when driving.

Robert Hodges, COO of Emirates Driving Institute and an internationally recognised road safety expert, noted the results of the survey, but emphasised that growing use of smartphones and multimedia features in cars were the main causes of distracted driving in the UAE.

“Up until recently, if you wanted to turn on the AC, you just pushed a button. Now, you’re going to a dropdown menu that enables you to check the left front zone, right front zone, rear zone, hand speed and the like. This means that you take your eyes off the road,” Hodges told Gulf News.

Hodges, however, said distracted driving is more than just taking your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel.

“Receiving a phone call using a hands-free set in a vehicle results in the driver thinking less about driving and more about the phone call. You are four times more likely to have an accident when on the phone than when you are not,” Hodges said. “Even when you end the phone call, the effect lasts for at least another 15 minutes because your mind is still going over the conversation you had.”

Jeff V., who has been driving in the UAE for nine years, admits he is constantly distracted when driving to work from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

“I check office e-mails, social media notifications, and text messages while driving long distances because I get bored behind the wheel,” the treasury manager said.

Mitch Pereira, a sales and marketing manager who has been driving for 17 years, agreed that using smartphones is every driver’s biggest distraction. Pereira said he is guilty of multi-tasking while driving, but contended that he is an exception to the rule since was trained to drive defensively.