Turn around when possible: one in seven risking lives to correct sat-nav mistakes

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk 

‘Turn around when possible.’ It’s a phrase that anyone who drives with the aid of a sat-nav knows well.

But it could mean more than just a navigational nightmare. A survey by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line has found that more thanone in seven (15%) drivers who use a sat-nav admit making illegal or risky manoeuvres to correct mistakes when following sat-nav instructions, putting themselves and other road users at risk of a devastating crash.

Dodgy u-turns aren’t the only danger. Brake and Direct Line’s survey also found that:

  • one in 14 (7%) drivers have had a near miss, having to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid a hazard, because they were distracted by a sat-nav (rising to one in 10 (11%) among young drivers (17-24);
  • one in 14 (7%) drivers also admit to having a similar near miss because they were fiddling with their stereo (rising to one in 10 (11%) among young drivers (17-24))

When used responsibly, using a voice-based sat-nav can make you a safer than using a visual display or paper map, as you can navigate without looking away from the road [1]. However, there is some evidence that relying on a sat-nav can make you drive faster and make you less observant [2]. Fiddling with a stereo can also make you react slower and make more errors [3].

Through its drive smart campaign, Brake is calling on all drivers to make a new year’s resolution to stay alert and keep their mind and eyes on the road. That means programming your sat-nav before you set off, and not attempting to re-programme it, fiddle with your stereo, use a mobile, or do anything else while driving. Research shows almost everyone is unable to multi-task at the wheel without driving performance being badly affected [4]. Carry out a secondary activity and you’re two to three times more likely to crash: more for complex activities like talking on a phone or texting [5].

Brake is also calling on drivers not to be distracted by the range of technologies being installed in many new cars that have nothing to do with driving, such as access to social media. Brake is also appealing to the government to regulate the use of features that can pose a dangerous distraction to drivers.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “Sat-navs have revolutionised the way many of us drive, helping us get from A to B without worrying about navigation, and there are indications they can make you safer. However, there are potential pitfalls to be wary of that can pose a real danger to yourself and other road users. Remember, the sat-nav is there to help you keep focused on driving rather than worry about directions, but it's not there to make all the decisions for you. Driving is an unpredictable activity, so you still need to look at signs, particularly those warning of hazards or speed limits, and watch for people and unexpected problems.

“For many drivers there is an increasing array of technological temptations that can pose a deadly distraction; it’s essential to resist to ensure you and others arrive safely. Brake’s advice is: set your sat-nav and radio before you set off, put your phone in the boot and ensure you’re not tempted to do anything that will take your mind or eyes off the road while driving.”

Rob Miles, director of motor at Direct Line,commented: “Looking at the sat-nav while your eyes are meant to be on the road is no different from trying to drive with a map in front of you. It's dangerous, and you shouldn't do it. If you're going to use sat-nav to guide you through a journey, better to use a voice-based version so you can keep your eyes on the road. If you need to change direction or turn around, do it safely, even if it takes a bit of time to get to the next roundabout rather than doing a U-turn. And if you want to look at the sat-nav, do what you'd do with a map: find somewhere safe to pull over before having a look.”

Read about Brake’s drive smart campaign. Tweet us: @Brakecharity, hashtag #DriveSmart. Read the survey report.

Facts

A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22% of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction. It also showed that drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times more likely to crash [6]. Other studies have found that more complex secondary tasks, like talking on a mobile phone or texting, increase crash risk even more. Talking on a phone (hands-free or hand-held) has been shown to make drivers four times more likely to be in a serious crash, texting far more still [7].

Many drivers allow themselves to be distracted because they believe they are in control, and do not believe distraction poses a significant risk [8]. However, research shows drivers are not able to correctly estimate how distracted they are [9] and 98% are not able to divide their attention without a significant deterioration in driving performance [10].

There is some evidence that using a sat-nav can increase driver speed and reduce observation [11]. However, research has also found that voice-based in-vehicle navigation is safer than using a visual display or paper map, as it allows the driver to navigate without looking away from the road [12].

Listening to loud music has been found to slow drivers’ reaction times, and encourages aggressive driving [13]. It can also prevent drivers hearing what is going on around them. Adjusting the controls of radios or music players can also be dangerous. Several studies into driver distraction have found that operating a stereo while driving leads to slower reaction times and more errors such as lane departure [14].

Voice-operated controls to allow the driver to complete tasks such as operating the radio are intended to reduce distraction by removing the need for the driver to look away from the road. However, research has found that these devices harm drivers’ ability to concentrate [15], and some speech-to-text systems can be even more distracting than a phone call [16].

Devices such as cruise control, aimed at reducing the driver’s workload, can also have the unintended side-effect of making drivers less attentive and more susceptible to fatigue [17], and can cause slower reaction times [18].

Some vehicles now come equipped with entertainment and communications technology that enables drivers to carry out tasks, or access information or entertainment, completely unrelated to driving, such as checking social media. Research showing the dangers of accessing information or engaging in communications via mobile phones suggests that using such technology at the wheel would pose a significant danger.

Brake’s advice

Many modern vehicles come equipped with technology aimed at making the driver safer or more comfortable. However, some in-vehicle technology can provide a dangerous distraction.

Driving is a complex and unpredictable activity that requires your full attention, so don’t kid yourself you can get away with multi-tasking at the wheel. You need to keep your mind and eyes on the road, and not attempt to do anything else but drive. Brake is urging drivers to avoid adjusting sat-navs, stereos or other gadgets, and never use your phone at the wheel – put it in the boot if you think you might be tempted.

If you use a sat-nav, programme it before starting your journey and never while driving. Fiddling with the sat-nav will take your eyes and mind off the road with potentially lethal consequences. Don’t rely on your sat-nav to notify you of problems ahead – stay alert.

Remember, the sat-nav is there to help you keep focused on driving rather than worry about directions, but it's not there to make all the decisions for you. You still need to look at signs, particularly those warning of hazards or speed limits, and watch for people and hazards.

Some other technologies now being fitted in vehicles enable drivers to carry out tasks, or access information or entertainment, that are unrelated to driving, such as checking social media. Just like using a mobile phone, using these functions is likely to pose a significant danger, so you should avoid them completely while driving.

Brake’s calls for government action

In-built vehicle ‘infotainment’ systems, that enable drivers to perform tasks straight from the dashboard that have nothing to driving, such as checking social media, are becoming increasingly widespread. If these devices are used for tasks such as emailing and social media updates while driving, they are potentially as distracting and dangerous as using a mobile phone. Brake therefore calls on government to regulate their use.

Brake is also calling for tougher penalties for distracted drivers, including much higher fines for those caught using phones, and the ban on phone use extended to hands-free kits, given research showing the dangers of using these.

Case study

On 15 February 2005, Pauline Rogers, 52, from Birmingham, was halfway across a zebra crossing when a car hit her. The driver admitted he didn't see Pauline as he was changing a music tape. Pauline was knocked unconscious. Her face and head took brunt of the crash and almost every bone in her face was broken. She now has metal plates in her head and her mouth had to be wired together as both her jaw and nose were broken. She was in a coma for three weeks. The driver was banned from driving for six months, and fined just £200 with £80 court costs.

Pauline says: "My life was turned upside down for the sake of changing a tape in the car. I urge every driver to wake up to the fact that they are driving a potentially lethal weapon. They should be concentrating 100% on the job of driving at all times if they want to get from A to B safely. Changing the radio, eating, phoning or looking at a sat-nav takes your eyes and mind off the road so you could quite easily miss a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, like me."

About the report

These survey results come from Section 3 of Report 5: Driven to Distraction, part of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012-14, released today (Tuesday 6 January 2014). The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Surveygoo. Read the report.

Full results

Q1. In the past year, have you braked suddenly or swerved because you were slow to notice a hazard when distracted (e.g. because you didn't notice the car ahead stopping in time)? (tick all that apply)

  • 7% said yes, distracted by a sat-nav (age breakdown – 18-24: 11%, 25-34: 7%, 35-44: 5%, 45-54: 5%, 55-64: 2%, 65+: 0%)
  • 7% said yes, distracted by adjusting the stereo (age breakdown – 18-24: 11%, 25-34: 7%, 35-44: 6%, 45-54: 4%, 55-64: 1%, 65+: 0%)
  • 2% said yes, distracted by food or drink
  • 3% said yes, distracted by a mobile phone
  • 12% said yes, distracted by passengers
  • 6% said yes, distracted by kids in the back
  • 21% said yes, distracted by something else
  • 60% said no

Q2. In the past year, have you made an illegal or risky manoeuvre to rectify a mistake when following sat-nav instructions?

  • One in 10 (10%) said yes
  • Two thirds (65%) said no
  • A quarter (25%) said they don’t use a sat-nav

Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com.

End notes

[1] Voice-based navigation is a safer way to get around, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2011
[2] Can sat navs reduce drivers' performance? Royal Holloway University of London, 2012
[3] Driver distraction: a review of the literature, Monash University Accident Research Centre, 2003
[4] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010
[5] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[6] ibid
[7] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005
[8] Driver distraction, RoSPA, 2007
[9] Assessing the awareness of performance decrements in distracted drivers, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, 2008
[10] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010
[11] Can sat navs reduce drivers' performance? Royal Holloway University of London, 2012
[12] Voice-based navigation is a safer way to get around, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2011
[13] Contractile Activity and Noise Impair Simple and Complex Vigilance Tasks, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2004
[14] Driver distraction: a review of the literature, Monash University Accident Research Centre, 2003
[15] Listening and responding to questions harms drivers’ ability to focus, University of Toronto, 2013
[16] Speech-to-text systems distract drivers more than talking on a mobile phone, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2013
[17] Cruise control may cause drivers to be less attentive and more susceptible to fatigue, VINCI Autoroutes Foundation, 2013
[18] The influence of Cruise Control and Adaptive Cruise Control on driving behaviour , Technical University Braunschweig, 2011