While the number of road deaths in Australia has dropped over the past four-and-a-half decades, from a peak of 3,798 in 1970 to 1154 in 2014, this decreasing trend has since reversed with total road deaths in 2015 (1209) and 2016 (1293) being higher than that in 2014. The increasing death rate has been slightly ameliorated in 2017, with 1225 road deaths recorded – however this remains a 6% increase from the nadir of 2014.

The major causes of fatalities have historically been referred to as the fatal four – specifically, being intoxicated (drug and/or alcohol), speeding, not wearing seatbelts and being fatigued. However, this has recently been increased to the “fatal five”, with driving while distracted being added to the list of the major causes of road accidents.

Driver distraction has received considerable attention over the past decade arguably due to the proliferation of nomadic technologies that can be used in vehicles . We often think of driver distraction as involving technologies like mobile phones, complex sound systems, on-board DVD players and satellite navigation. However, the causes of distraction are more varied and some of the causes may surprise you.

Driver distraction and inattention were a primary area of analysis in a 2013 Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) study . The researchers analysed a decade of Australian crashes and found that an estimated 15.9% per cent of 340 serious casualty crashes were caused by distraction.

The MUARC study found the most common type of distraction involved in serious crashes was voluntary, nondriving related distractions (accounting for 8.8% of serious crashes) originating within the vehicle, such as passenger interactions (3.2% serious crashes). Another major source of distraction (4.1% serious crashes) was, in fact, internal to the driver – such as disturbing thoughts or feeling stressed. Surprisingly, use of within-vehicle nomadic technology (mobile phone, sound system etc) accounted for only 3.6% of serious crashes.