Driving With One Hand On The Wheel - A Fatal Distraction?

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- Two million motorists have had an accident or near miss when driving with just one hand on the wheel(1) –

Embargoed until 00:01 on Thursday 12th April 2012: A new academic report out today reveals that motorists who drive whilst eating at the wheel see their reaction times doubled.

The study, commissioned by esure car insurance and carried out by scientists at the University of Leeds(2) using a driving simulator, has found that participant’s reaction times increased by 44 per cent when eating behind the wheel. For example, if a motorist’s reaction time was five seconds on average when driving with two hands on the wheel it would increase to just over seven seconds when eating at the wheel(3).

The report, entitled ‘Two Hands Better Than One’, reveals that when sipping a drink reaction times of the motorist increased by over a fifth (22 per cent) compared to when driving with both hands firmly on the wheel. These increased reaction rates are most likely due to the additional visual demand experienced with drinking and eating such as unwrapping the food or tipping the bottle up in order to drink from it.

Drivers were 18 per cent more likely to experience poorer lane control - unable to maintain a steady central lane position - whilst drinking behind the wheel. Participants made the most corrections to their steering when talking on a mobile-device, having to make a quarter more adjustments to keep their steering in line with the road markings ahead.

Accompanying research from esure(4) revealed that a worrying 79 per cent of motorists do not understand the legislation around driving with one hand on the wheel; almost a third of Brits (32 per cent) are not sure whether eating whilst driving is an illegal activity and a further 27 per cent were unsure of the rules around smoking(5).

The study also showed that 17 per cent of motorists think it is acceptable to drive with just one hand on the wheel with almost half (47 per cent) admitting they do this regularly.

Over a third (36 per cent) of British motorists have taken their hand off the wheel to use the touch screen on their sat nav and one in five (20 per cent) admit they had strayed to smoking whilst driving. Eight per cent of Brits have had an accident or near miss when fiddling with the car radio.

Mike Pickard, Head of Risk and Underwriting at esure car insurance, said: “Results from these driving simulator tests give great cause for concern and indicate how dangerous it is for motorists to engage in activities that involve driving with just one hand on the wheel.

“We are appealing for all motorists to take the time to properly plan their car journey before leaving the house. Eat before you step into the car and plan regular breaks at service stations to help fuel any cravings whilst behind the wheel.”

Prof. Samantha Jamson at the University of Leeds, said: “It is widely accepted that the distraction of talking on a hand-held mobile phone may increase accident risk – hence the introduction of legislation in the UK. Other activities that involve taking one hand off the wheel, such as eating or drinking, may also cause distraction, particularly when drivers take their eyes off the road in order to reach for or unwrap items.

“The results we obtained suggest that driving with just one hand on the wheel impacted on the driving behaviour of the participants in this study”.

Regional Differences Over a fifth of Scots (22 per cent) admit they often take their hand off the wheel to smoke whilst driving – the highest of any region polled. Almost one in ten people from the West Midlands (nine per cent) revealed they have taken their hand off the wheel to apply make-up or hair gel whilst driving. 15 per cent of Londoners admit they have had an accident or near miss because they have been driving with just one hand on the wheel – the highest of any region polled.

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Notes to Editors:
(1) 2,046,000 is an estimate based on six per cent of the total UK motoring population based on DfT Transport Statistics, which show that there were 34,100,000 motor vehicles currently licensed in 2010
(2) The study was performed using the University of Leeds’ full scale Driving Simulator. We asked 10 participant drivers to complete a number of tasks while driving with one hand and compared their performance to when they were asked to drive with two hands on the steering wheel. Participants were asked to drive on a single-carriageway road, through both urban (40mph) and rural (60mph) areas and follow the vehicle in front. Five conditions were measured including: eating, drinking, talking on a mobile device, driving with one hand on the wheel (with no secondary task) and driving with two hands on the wheel
(3) The study measured reaction time over a period of four minutes, with the drivers continuously reacting to the lead vehicle in front adjusting its speed. Therefore over this period drivers reaction times in total amounted to five seconds with two hands on the wheel, and seven seconds whilst eating at the wheel.
(4) esure used the independent online research company FlyResearch who surveyed 1,005 of the UK’s motorists, from across the country aged 18 and over, between 20th and 22nd March 2012
(5) Eating, drinking and smoking behind the wheel are not illegal activities in the UK but drivers can be charged with careless driving if police see them to not be in proper control of their vehicle as a result of these activities. Driving whilst talking on a hand-held mobile device is illegal in the UK

About Prof. Samantha Jamson:
Dr. Jamson is a Chartered Psychologist at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds. She is a member of the Safety Group, a multidisciplinary team undertaking research in road safety and driver behaviour. With over ten years experience in the field, she has worked on a variety of research projects using driving simulators and instrumented cars as evaluation tools.