Driver distraction

Adult passengers are the biggest in-car distraction for drivers

Adult passengers are the biggest in-car distraction for drivers

Adult passengers are the biggest in-car distraction for drivers

Adult passengers are the biggest in-car distraction for drivers, a survey of 18,026 AA members reveals.

Nearly two out of five AA members (38% of the AA-Populus poll) say their attention has been significantly diverted by other people in the car, ‘old’ technology and ‘new’ technology in the past 12 months.

The survey*, which asked “Have you been distracted, had a near miss or a crash caused by any of the following whilst driving over the past 12 months?”, found that some of the more traditional distractions still pose the biggest threat:

The affected AA members responded:

  • Adult passengers – 18%
  • Twiddling with the radio – 16%
  • Children in the car – 14%
  • Operating the sat nav – 13%
  • Mobile phone conversation – 12%
  • Eating a sandwich – 9%
  • Drinking a coffee, water, etc – 7%
  • Texting – 5%
  • Emailing – 1%
  • Checking social media – 1%
  • Smoking – 1%

Overall, of the 6,867 respondents distracted, 548 (8%) had a near miss and 106 (1.5%) had a crash.

88 deaths due to distraction

Latest government statistics** show that driver distraction contributed to 88 deaths in 2012, of which 17 were attributed to mobile phone use.

In-car distractions accounted for 5.5% of the 1,608 deaths in reported road accidents.

Killed and serious injuries from distractions made up 664 or 3% of the reported 21,796 total, while slight injuries from distraction numbered 4,848 or 3.5% of the 136,991 reported road accident casualties.

Mobile phones

However, mobile phones, the only technology category in the ‘impairment or distraction’ set of statistics, showed a higher death rate compared to other in-car distractions.

The 17 deaths, set against a total of 548 casualties attributed to use of mobile phones, gives a fatality rate of 3%.

Among other in-car distractions, 71 of the 4,964 related accident casualties (1.4%) proved fatal.

Driver's sole responsibility

The vast majority of the AA-Populus survey respondents (87%) accept that it is the driver's sole responsibility to ensure these new technology and ‘infotainment’ systems do not result in interaction and distraction whilst driving. These systems include mobile phone integration, sat-nav, voice control, access to music playlists on a mobile device, texting, e-mail or even web browsing systems in their vehicles.

The higher kill rate for mobile phone-related reported accidents provides a strong wake-up call

Edmund King, AA president

Warning for the future

“Although human distractions remain the biggest in-car threat, the figures for sat-navs and mobile phones give a warning for what might happen in the future as ‘infotainment’ and other technology become more commonplace. The higher kill rate for mobile phone-related reported accidents provides a strong wake-up call,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.


“We are pleased to see the vast majority of AA members understand their responsibility when using this new kit, but that still leaves 6% who don’t. There will also be the temptation factor, which makes it all the more important that manufacturers add ‘smart’ features to in-car equipment, such as making it unavailable to drivers when the car is moving. That should also apply to retrofit equipment. It is important that the potential distraction of sophisticated in-car gadgets does not overtake the excellent progress towards safer cars with features such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) or lane keeping assistance.

Embrace technology

“In the sixties some people feared it would be dangerous to have radios in cars, in the eighties there were horror stories about sat navs and today there are potentially many more technology developments. We shouldn’t be Luddites about technological development but we must embrace technology whilst ensuring that the driver stays safely in control.


“The Transport Secretary has floated the idea of 6 penalty points for using a hand-held mobile. If this proposal was backed by an information and enforcement campaign, it could begin to change the daily dangers that the majority of our members see with drivers texting and tweeting at the wheel.”

* Populus received 18,026 responses from AA members to its online poll between 10th and 19th June 2014.

** Source: “Casualties in reported accidents by contributory factor and severity, Great Britain, 2012”, published by Department for Transport, September 2013.

(21 July 2014)