Dubai: Driver error is the biggest cause behind most accidents across the world, including in the UAE, and distracted driving or lack of attention leads to many of these errors, a study shows.

In the UAE, the Ministry of Interior statistics suggest that lack of attention or distracted driving causes 11 per cent of road fatalities, on a par with tailgating and misjudgement.

Recent studies have revealed that driving is a full-attention job and that the brain cannot concentrate fully if it is involved in other tasks simultaneously.

“Most people think they can do two things at once but psychological research proves the brain is just not wired to multitask, especially when driving. When the brain is taxed with too many simultaneous actions, it actually performs each one slower. So, for example, while many people may think they can safely talk on the phone and still concentrate fully on the road, science says otherwise,” a recent study conducted by Ford suggested.

When drivers become distracted or mentally taxed, it can have disastrous consequences.

Every year, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.25 million people die in road traffic collisions, and studies show that 94 per cent of accidents are caused by driver error.

Experts have identified four major categories of driver distractions that can divert the brain’s attention from the road and often lead to serious accidents: visual, auditory, manual and cognitive.

Thomas Edelman, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE (RSU), says use of mobile phones involves all the above four distractions, putting the driver and other road users in grave danger.

According to a survey conducted last year by RSU, 74 per cent of the UAE drivers use mobile phones while driving

“Distracted driving is among the top causes of accidents, injuries and death on UAE’s roads and the use of mobile phones behind the wheel is one of the major sources of distraction. It is a very important issue which needs to get tackled by education and awareness creation,” said Edelman

Different tasks have a different effect on cognitive load, and driving, according to Matt Gerlach, one of Ford’s most experienced testing drivers, uses around 85 per cent of a person’s mental load.

“I’ve trained hundreds of drivers over the years, and based on my experience, I’d say that just normal road driving uses around 85 per cent of your mental load. Just sending a text message, taking a photo or even just having a conversation with a passenger may not seem very difficult to do but it can overload the brain when someone’s driving and that’s when accidents happen,” said Gerlach.

Traffic authorities in the UAE say that 10 per cent of crashes could be linked to drivers using their mobile phones to browse social media or take videos while driving.

This is concerning, given a car travelling at 100 kmph can travel 390 metres in 14 seconds, the average time required to take a selfie.

“When you’re using 85 per cent of your cognitive load to drive, your mind doesn’t have the capacity to do much else. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a professional or if you just drive once in a while, if you can begin to understand how much of your brain you’re using just to drive the car, it can help keep your cognitive load in check and make you a safer driver,” added Gerlach.


What can you do about it?

There are a number of ways drivers can reduce errors:

Concentrate just on driving and avoid dangerous distractions like mobile phones.

Do not eat or drink while driving.

Expand your field of vision: Look further ahead and scan a larger distance of the road.

Avoid driving while drowsy or tired.

Take frequent short breaks on a longer journey.


Distracted driving in numbers

390: The number of metres you drive in 14 seconds at 100 kmph

94: The percentage of fatal road traffic accidents caused by driver error

37: The per cent by which talking on a cell phone reduces the ability to drive

14: The average number of seconds required to take a selfie

1: The number of tasks the human brain can fully focus on at one time