Driving and doing stuff at same time apparently dangerous

EngageSportMode has, in the past, taken a little bit of umbrage at the messages of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Today they released a statement in relation to a survey undertaken by road safety zealots Brake. Normally we would hold our tongue, but couldn’t keep our mouths closed in this instance.

You wouldn't dare eat this behind the wheel, would you?
You wouldn’t dare eat this behind the wheel, would you?

In a survey of 1,000 people Brake found that 29% admitted to opening food to eat whilst driving, with 33% admitting to eating food given to them by a passenger. 38%, the majority, claimed to have never eaten anything behind the wheel. Ever. Another 20% admitted to ‘personal grooming’ such as applying make-up or shaving (yes, seriously) during a car journey in which they were the driver, with a quarter of that group admitting to doing it in free-flowing traffic. Finally, 2% claimed to have braked or swerved (presumably to avoid something) due to being distracted by food or drink.

EngageSportMode has a number of issues with the above, not least because of the dramatisation and parsimonious hand-wringing which accompanies the Brake press release.

Firstly, there’s no breakdown of just what exactly was defined as ‘food’ in this survey. We could be talking anywhere from a full on Sunday roast with all the trimmings, to a piece of chewing gum. The former is probably slighter riskier than the latter, especially if you’re worried about the depreciation caused by gravy stains on your car’s upholstery.

Secondly, the questions asked were incredibly open to interpretation. For example, the primary question consisted of asking: ‘In the past 12 months, have you eaten food when driving?’ There’s no definition of driving for a start. This morning I ate a piece of chewing gum whilst sat, stationary, in my car on the driveway. Technically, I was in charge of a motor vehicle and could reasonably be considered to be driving. But where was the danger in that? Devouring a Tikka Masala, whilst negotiating the Nürburgring in a Porsche Carrera GT, is also an example of driving and eating. But for the purposes of Brake’s survey, both are seemingly as dangerous as each other.

We could go on, but the point is probably already clear. Naturally eating behind the wheel could be dangerous in certain circumstances. In the same breadth shaving a miniature poodle, attempting nuclear fusion and completing your income tax self-assessment are also all probably dangerous things to do in the outside lane of M1. However, we don’t see Brake researching or campaigning against these. But this is where the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) weighed in with this contribution:

 …the human factor is still the biggest issue in road safety.  In isolation eating, phoning, talking, chastising, map reading or glovebox rummaging all sound innocuous enough but when combined with driving on today’s busy roads they can have devastating consequences.  Safe driving demands complete concentration and anything that takes your mind or your eyes off the road puts you and others at risk.

In short, the IAM essentially recommends you never look away from the road. Don’t look at the stereo, don’t even think of touching that sat nav unit and heaven forbid you having that coffee to keep you awake. We quite love the idea that chastising – who exactly isn’t clarified – merits inclusion, along with talking. Thinking, sneezing and sighing all appear to have been missed off that list but we imagine it wasn’t meant to be exhaustive.

Presumably it also means don’t look at the speedometer as that could, quite obviously be a distraction from the ‘critical task’ of not crashing into cars or people. Actually, thinking about the above, it’s probably safer if you just never drive, ever again. That way you can’t foolishly plough into someone whilst eating a Donner kebab or cause a multi-car pile-up from breathing.

Driving is an inherently dangerous thing to do. It involves a moving object, often surrounded by other moving objects, travelling at speed near people and immovable objects. Doing that at the same time as other stuff obviously adds to that risk, but over-blown statements like the above do little to improve road safety. Rather, they aim to portray all drivers as mindless morons who shouldn’t be allowed to do anything, let alone think about getting behind the wheel of a car.

EngageSportMode does not deny that road safety is important. A recent article by The Economist claimed that due to the rise of car ownership in the developing word, by 2030 road accidents will kill more people than HIV/AIDS and already account for more deaths than malaria or tuberculosis combined. Quite clearly it’s a global problem, but one that will forever exist for as long as we use roads to travel by car. Well, until Brake comes to power and we’re forced to walk everywhere …

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