Distracted drivers – what causes motorists’ minds to wander?

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Driving on autopilot means something different to male and female drivers, new research reveals

According to a study carried out by Continental tyres, women drivers are nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to compile a mental shopping or ‘to do’ list, while men listen to music, the radio or podcasts.

Eight in 10 drivers admit they sometimes zone out for some, or all, of their journey – a figure which is getting worse as the same study in 2009 found six in 10 failed to concentrate throughout their trip.

Based on this survey, in just over six years the amount of people driving on autopilot has increased by a third.

The research is part of Continental Tyres’ ‘Vision Zero’, a long-term commitment to reduce accidents through innovative tyre technologies and automotive systems.

It revealed men are far less worried that being an autopilot motorist impacts their safety, with 41% not bothered if they sometimes tune out – 24% more than with women.

Mark Griffiths, safety expert for Continental Tyres, said: “Although both men and women are physically engaged in driving, if they are distracted, that presents a risk.

“It’s possible that what they think about when ‘zoned out’ can make a big difference when they need to concentrate fully.

“This research also identifies clear differences in the environment when the different genders are more prone to being distracted and given the impact on likely speeds.”

Where are drivers most likely to be distracted?

The study of 2,000 drivers determined women are 57% more likely to be distracted on small side roads – when travelling slower – while men are 48% more likely to switch to autopilot when on motorways.

A quarter of all drivers say that being distracted happens as often as one in five journeys – with around one in six men admitting they often cannot remember the entire journey.

Professor John Groeger, driving psychologist at the University of Hull, said: “Driving is a complex task that requires our attention but not necessarily our absolute concentration, as long as everything is happening like we expect it to on the road.

"Without concentration reacting to something unexpected may simply take too long for us to respond safely. "The sheer monotony of driving can mean maintaining concentration is very difficult and tiring, though it is vital that we get it right."

Could driverless cars be the answer?

As advances are made in automotive technology, more and more tasks are removed from the driver – like parking assistance – so the potential exists for there to be less to concentrate on.

Men are more positive than women about future automotive technology with 46% more likely to suggest automated driving will increase road safety compared to 30% of women.

And when asked about priorities for development, men were nearly twice as keen as women to see driverless cars on the road, while female motorists are 23% more likely to want technology to improve protection for people in the event of a crash.

Mr Griffiths added: “It’s important that all motorists are mindful about their concentration levels when on the road and that they make sure they feel refreshed and fit to drive.

“And whatever technology is introduced to assist their driving, it’s essential that the driver remains in control and recognises their responsibility."

The top five distractions for men and women are:

Women

1. Bad weather – 49%

2. Tiredness – 45%

3. Noisy child – 36%

4. Bad mood – 36%

5. Other drivers / road rage – 34%

Men

1. Tiredness – 46%

2. Bad weather – 36%

3. Noisy child – 32%

4. Other drivers / road rage – 30%

5. Bad mood – 27%

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