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Driving with one hand on the wheel - A fatal distraction?

12th April 2012 Print

A new academic report 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 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.

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 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.

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".