Bad habits that can kill - distracted driving is one of the leading causes of road accidents

20 February 2013:

40 people die on South Africa's roads every day resulting in almost 14,000 deaths every year. Worldwide, more people are killed as a result of road accidents than malaria. A sobering thought isn't it?

Driving while unfocused is one of the leading causes of road accidents. Studies show that if you are using your cell phone while driving, you are four times more likely to be involved in an accident than if you weren't.

When driving, it takes, on average, 2.5 seconds to check your cell phone, so if you are travelling at 100km per hour you will travel the length of a rugby field without seeing what's happening on the road around you. If you are preoccupied with updating your Facebook status would you notice the children crossing the road or the car that has suddenly stopped in front of you? Now that you think about it would you still take the risk?

Even if you only use your cell phone at a red light or when stationary, studies show you could fail to see up to 50% of what's happening around you. Driving while unfocused can also make you a soft target for criminals - it increases your risk of becoming a victim of smash and grabs or even hijackings. Not only this, but you could also collect a hefty fine as using a cell phone while driving is against the law. Being alert and aware of your surroundings is your best defence.

While cell phones have become a normal part of everyday life, the risks associated with using them while driving are just too high. Only one solution remains - to break the habit and not use your cell phone at all. Here are a few tips to help you:

    1.Use a hands-free device.
    In an ideal world we would be able to avoid picking up our cell phones while driving, but when you simply can't be separated from your cell phone, use a hands-free device.

    2.Keep your cell phone out of reach.
    Reduce the temptation to check in on Facebook or read your emails while driving. Put your phone somewhere you can't see it, like in your bag or in the boot of the car.

    3.Switch off your phone.
    Switch off, or set to 'Silent' and avoid the temptation to take a call or read a text message. Change your voicemail greeting to "I can't take your call because I am either in a meeting or driving" and by doing this maybe others will follow suit.

    4.Keep both hands on the steering wheel.
    Your hands should be on your steering wheel at all times when you are not changing gears. Keep this in mind the next time you want to pick up your cell phone while driving.

    5.Use voice activated apps.
    These days many smartphones have voice activated apps that allow you to dial or even type an SMS using your voice. This way you can stay in touch without taking your eyes off the road.

In conclusion, if you have to call or SMS while driving, pull off the road safely and stop. Don't become another statistic. Start today and break the habit!
    Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
    011 799 1180

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