Some studies suggest that around 78 per cent of road incidents are caused by driver inattention or distraction, for example by holding a conversation on a mobile phone.
To tackle this, Dorset Police have enlisted the help of scientists from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick to research the effects of mobile phone use on driving ability and to develop tools to encourage people to be more attentive drivers.
University of Warwick PhD student Daniel Gunnell, supervised by Dr Derrick Watson and Dr Melina Kunar, will focus on people who have recently committed a road traffic offence in Dorset, such as speeding or talking on a mobile phone, and who are now attending a driver awareness course run by Dorset Police.
Daniel Gunnell said: “It’s staggering that so many accidents are caused by simply not paying enough attention when on the road.
“We want to make people think about the way they drive as most people are not aware of how dangerous driving while distracted can be.
“This project will conduct research on the effect of distraction on driving by collecting information from people attending Dorset Police’s driver awareness courses.
“Once we’ve done that we will devise exercises which raise people’s awareness of just how badly distraction affects their driving abilities.”
Mr Gunnell will use the latest methods in psychology to help people better understand how they perceive changes in the world around them.
It has been established that we think we are better than we actually are at perceiving changes in the environment. This is a crucial skill while driving as it allows us to react to fast-moving hazards such as a child running into the road.
Mr Gunnell said: “People tend to overestimate their ability to take in this kind of information and underestimate just how big a negative influence mobile phones and other distractions can be.
“We believe that by making people more aware of how their brain works, they will change the way they drive.”
Laressa Robinson, Driver Education Manager at Dorset Police, said: “We are committed to making the roads of Dorset safer and driver distraction is one of the ‘fatal four’ contributing factors to road traffic collisions – along with drink driving, not wearing a seat belt and speeding. We look forward to working with the University of Warwick and to receiving the results of their research.”
Daniel Gunnell’s PhD is funded by the research council ESRC. His work builds on previous research carried out by Dr Melina Kunar at the University of Warwick into distraction and mobile phones.
For further information, please contact University of Warwick press officer Anna Blackaby firstname.lastname@example.org or 02476 575910