Driven to Distraction: How to Keep Your Mind on the Road

When you first start learning to drive it seems almost impossible that you might ever feel so comfortable that it won’t take every ounce of your concentration. For some people, it’s scary. For others, it’s exhilarating. And often a combination of the two. Either way, distraction seems unlikely. But as your confidence and experience grows, it’s not uncommon for your mind to wonder when you’re behind the wheel. And that’s when accidents happen.

Understanding how to avoid distractions and fully concentrate when driving can be one of the best ways to keep you safe on the road.

How to Avoid Distractions When Driving

Why is driving when distracted a problem?

Have you ever tried to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time? Even if you can do it – and a lot of people can – it takes more than physical coordination to get right. It requires concentration. And it’s difficult because the one action is distracting you from the other. As much as we like to claim to be able to multitask, our brains are wired to focus on one thing at a time. Which means that distracted driving usually means unsafe driving. Our observation is reduced. Our reactions times slow. And if you’re caught driving when distracted, it can result in a minimum of three points on your licence.

What constitutes as distracted driving?

Distracted driving can take a number of forms.

  • Visual distraction – This is when you’re looking at anything other than the road. Whether it’s a passenger, your phone, or a pedestrian with an unusual outfit. If you’re not concentrating on the task at hand, you’re distracted.
  • Physical distraction – You might be grabbing a drink of water, eating a packet of crisps, or trying to reach something off the back seat. If your hands are not holding the wheel, this is classed as physical distraction.
  • Audio distraction – Whether it’s something on the radio or a conversation that catches your attention, if it takes your concentration away from the road, you shouldn’t be doing it.
  • Mental distraction – This is probably the hardest thing to manage. Because none of us can completely control our thoughts. But if your head is taking you to a place that demands your full attention, you shouldn’t be driving.

What can you do to limit driving distractions?

There are some distractions, you simply can’t avoid. But there are things you can do to help prevent distracted driving.

Don’t eat drink or smoke in the car

There are no laws against eating, drinking, or smoking in the car. In fact, sometimes, you just have to eat and drink. But where possible, it’s a really good idea to avoid doing any of these things when you’re moving. Because it can involve both physical and visual distraction.

Think about your passengers

Newly qualified drivers carrying passengers of similar age are four times more likely to be in a fatal crash, compared with when driving alone. Whether it’s showing off, nerves, or distraction, carrying passengers isn’t always a good idea for new drivers. So, think about who you offer to drive. And if you are carrying passengers, be clear that you need to concentrate.

Put your phone away

A phone can be a really good piece of road safety equipment. But not if you’re constantly looking at it. It is illegal to call or text on a handheld device while driving in the UK. So, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ before you get in the car, and keep it in your bag or glove box while you’re driving.

Be prepared

Get everything set up before you leave. If you want to listen to the radio or a podcast, put it on before you start the engine. Check your hair and makeup before you get in the car. If you’re likely to need a drink, buy a water bottle with a flip top and put it within easy reach. Put the postcode in your sat nav before you drive and set it to the right volume. The more you prepare in advance, the less you’ll have to distract you.


One of the most common reasons for distracted driving is tiredness. So, try not to embark on any journey when tired. And pull over if you’re struggling.

Distracted driving can be incredibly dangerous. But it’s something that every driver has to learn to deal with. With time and practice it does become easier to be prepared and set your worries aside. But don’t become complacent. Because that’s when distraction will catch you unawares.

If you need help dealing with driving distractions, talk to your DGN instructor.

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Thomas Baugh

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