As Martyn Moore explains, it’s the way the technology ties up your brain that’s going to kill someone. Possibly you.

One of the biggest challenges to road safety today is also one of the oldest. It’s a driver behaviour that we’ve all heard of and one we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. It’s not speeding, it’s not drunk or drugged driving and it’s not driving on bald tyres – although they are all big challenges to road safety.

The practice goes back much earlier than the invention of the mobile phone but these days the mobile phone is its biggest cause. And it’s getting very, very serious.

The offence is “driving without due care and attention” and I bet every driver reading this could be accused of it almost every time they take control of a car. Because it could be argued, it is being argued, that every time you change a CD in the car’s stereo, every time you programme a new destination into the satnav while moving and every time you take a phone call, hands-free or not, you are guilty of driving without due care and attention.

Driving a modern car or van on our congested roads requires a lot of care and attention. It deserves all of our care and attention. We are guiding a ton of metal and glass along at 70 miles-per-hour within inches of hundreds of other busy fools doing exactly the same thing.

If one of us isn’t concentrating it can all go badly wrong very fast for all of us. If you think it’s OK to reply to that text message you’re probably an idiot.

The problem is, there are loads of idiots out there every day doing stupid things: rifling around in bags and glove-boxes, applying make-up and brushing hair, eating doughnuts and drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes or those ridiculous e-vapour things. Not only do these bozos think it’s OK to change the CD but they also imagine they can put the old one back in its case… at 65… in the middle lane.

We have been doing all this stuff for years. Before CDs it was cassettes – at least you only had to turn those over – and before that you had to twiddle a knob very precisely to hear Noel Edmonds clearly. As modern controls made the car easier to drive we started to think we had ‘spare capacity’ and chose to devote it to in-car entertainment, personal grooming and, more recently, real-time digital communication.

But there was no spare capacity. Our roads have filled up exponentially. Our cars cover more distance in a shorter time than ever and any margin for error that might have existed has all but gone.

If you do something every day for years you can forget how dangerous it is. Some people worry about flying in an aeroplane because they only do it once or twice a year. Statistically you are many times safer at 35,000 feet than you are on the A14. But if you have driven the A14 morning and evening for ten years without incident you probably feel safe doing it.

You probably also think that it’s OK to use voice commands and apps that read your text messages out loud to you. Hands-free phone operation means you can keep your mitts on the wheel and your eyes on the road. What could possibly go wrong?

According the road safety charity Brake, speaking on a hands-free phone is almost as dangerous as using a hand-held phone. It’s the call itself that causes the distraction, not so much holding the phone. Hand-held or hands-free, Brake says you are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury.

In case you need more convincing, here’s what cognitive psychologist Paul Atchley has to say about it: “You need your full attention to avoid a crash situation or, if it’s unavoidable, you need your full attention to reduce a negative outcome. Drivers might think they’re watching the road while dictating commands or listening to texts, but an ‘inattention blindness’ occurs that can be dangerous if road conditions change suddenly.”

Professor Atchley doesn’t believe in multitasking and even sees talking as a risk to road safety. “You need your brain to drive and you need your brain to talk. If you try to do both at once, you increase the risk of being in a crash,” he says.

Not too long ago factory-fitted satnav devices could not be programmed while the vehicle was in motion. The device sensed the movement and disabled the input controls.

Now many people use a portable navigation device that operates independently of the vehicle and built-in devices have had the restrictions removed. This sends out the message to drivers that it is OK to input a three line address in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire while driving at high speed.

Even looking at a roadside object is said to increase the risk of a crash by a factor of four. Sadly this does lend credence to the tale of the Wonderbra poster advert (‘Hello boys’) that witnessed a huge increase in collisions along the roads it looked down on in 1994.

Eating and drinking while driving increases reaction times by up to 44 per cent, says Brake, which gives new meaning to the phrase ‘crash diet’. Juggling hot and messy food and drink at the wheel massively increases your risk of an accident.

How much each distraction increases the crash risk by is not easy to establish but that hasn’t stopped boffins at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in America from trying. They have come up with the assertion that you are 23 times more likely to be in a crash while texting. Next message? “Pls snd amblnce”.

It’s no laughing matter. The Road Traffic Offences Guide published by the Crown Prosecution Service lists tuning a car radio, using hand-held electronic equipment and selecting and lighting a cigarette as examples of careless driving when the driver was avoidably distracted by the action. The more serious crime of Dangerous Driving is committed when a person’s standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

If you still think it’s OK to reply to that text message you are an idiot.

This article features in the summer edition of the Cardinus Connect magazine which brings together contributions from fleet, safety and risk management experts. If you haven’t already done so, request your free copy here.

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