Driven to distraction: hazards inside the car

Woman driving while distracted Woman talking on the phone and drinking coffee while driving car

Distraction is the enemy of safe driving, and while most motorists keep their eyes peeled on the road for hazards, they can often lie inside the vehicle itself.

With National Road Safety Week 2021 coming up (16–23 May), no time is better than the present to brush up on these common distractions drivers can face: a little extra thought could be a life saver.

1. Loose items in the cabin

Making sure your possessions are stowed securely should be on every motorist's pre-trip checklist. Expensive or delicate items shifting around on the backseat is enough to distract even the most disciplined driver, so make sure items are placed with consideration and try to use the boot where possible.

As well as being distracting, everyday items you might leave unsecured on your backseat – such as laptops, phones and bottles – can also become deadly projectiles in a crash.

During a collision, deceleration is rapid. While a seatbelt will slow your body at the same rate as the vehicle's body, unsecured objects in the cabin will carry on with all of their pre-crash momentum, meaning simple belongings can be turned into potentially fatal projectiles.


2. Letting pets ride unrestrained

It's no secret the NRMA thinks pets make some of the best road trip companions, but travelling with them safely requires a few common sense practices.

NSW law states an animal cannot be in on the driver's lap, and fines can be issued if the animal is blocking a driver's vision or exceeding the limits of the vehicle ie. hanging a tongue out an open window. Even worse, loose animals can get underfoot and obstruct crucial vehicle controls like the brake pedal.

Your best bet is keeping Fido restrained in the back seat, as even on a tether in the front seat, the force of an airbag deployment in an accident can easily hurt or kill your pet.

Related: Top tips for travelling with pets

3. Mobile phones and GPS systems

man distracted by GPS

Operating a mobile phone or GPS system improperly while driving not only increases the risk of a collision; it's also illegal.

While there are certain instances when a mobile phone and GPS can be operated legally from behind the wheel, it's best to exercise good judgment and not take that call while merging onto a freeway in torrential rain.

Related: Mobile phone detection cameras operating in NSW

4. Other passengers

Your passengers may have an adverse effect on your driving. While good conversation can make a long drive more enjoyable, avoid prioritising it over your primary purpose: operating the vehicle safely and respectfully. If you are the passenger, don't steer the driver's attention to anything that isn't the road.

For parents, distractions usually come from young children in the back seat of the car. Whether they are squabbling or just bored, kids can draw your focus away from the road. When distracted, you are more likely to make mistakes.

Related: Tips to survive road trips with kids


5. Eating and drinking

No hunger or upholstery stain is more painful than dealing with the consequences of a crash. The meal can probably wait until you reach your destination, but if it can't, park somewhere safe to take a break.

If you find your attention drawn more towards food or dink than to the road, it's time to pull over.

6. Operating the radio and having music too loud

If not managed with care and attention, music is another potential danger while in the car. Try to limit inputs to your car's stereo to when the conditions are safe, i.e., you are stopped at a red light.

Loud music can also distract motorists and drown out warning signals such as another vehicle's horn or an emergency vehicle's siren.

Looking for more driving tips?

Check out the NRMA's driving etiquette guide.