In Car Distractions

Mobile phone use

Looked at your phone whilst behind the wheel, perhaps an important phone call or text message?

Virtually everyone has a mobile phone. People rely on their phones for contact, as a diary, using social media, even taking photographs. This dependency does not stop when they are driving. Unfortunately, driving requires 100% attention – 100% of the time. A 1% reduction in concentration = a 1% rise in the risk of a collision.

Using a mobile phone whilst driving presents such a high risk to drivers that it was made an offence to drive whilst using a hand-held phone in 2003. This includes while the vehicle is stationary, say at traffic lights or in a traffic queue. The penalty, of 6 points and a fine of £200 reflects the seriousness of the danger posed. Drivers should stop in a parking space and turn their engines off before using a phone. A driver may also be deemed to not be proper control of a vehicle.

This could be for a range of reasons, such as:

  • Looking at or using a cradle-mounted phone or device such as a sat-nav
  • Reading a road map or a lap-top positioned on a passenger seat
  • Inserting a CD or changing a radio channel
  • Losing control due to drinking a hot drink or dropping a lit cigarette

So, our advice if you are a driver and have a mobile phone is to have a strategy to reduce or eliminate the risk posed by a mobile phone. For example:

  • Switch the phone off prior to driving
  • Place the phone out of sight and reach, like a glove box or car boot
  • Activate a ‘driving mode’ on the phone (if it has one) or place it on ‘silent’
  • Use a ‘Signal Blocker’ wallet or similar – this will disable the phone but store any messages or missed calls
  • Don’t allow your passengers to distract you with their mobile phones – ‘selfies’ and music – apply some rules in your car, it’s your responsibility

Using a sat nav

We’re pretty used to relying on our sat navs to get us around now, whether we’ve got a dedicated sat nav or we’re using maps on our phone. It’s important we use them in the right way, to keep us safe and so we don’t end up accidentally breaking the law.

Where to put your sat nav

There are no specific rules to say where you can and can’t fix your sat nav device or smartphone in your car. But placing a sat nav in your eyeline while you’re driving could mean your view is obstructed, and end up counting as an offence. The Highway code says that all windows have to be kept clear of obstructions, so it’s best to mount your sat nav as low as possible on the windscreen.

Using your phone as your sat nav

The law is really clear on anything to do with using your phone when you’re driving – if you’re touching it, you’re breaking the law.

That means if you want to use it as sat nav, you’ve got to get it mounted and your route programmed in before you set off. You won’t be able to touch it at all while you’re driving. If you need to change the destination, zoom in or out etc., you’ll need to pull over or risk getting a fine. See Driving Offences/Mobile Phones.


Being a passenger in a vehicle comes with its own set of responsibilities. For example, a fine for not wearing a seat belt (see Drivers/Seatbelts) goes directly to the person not wearing one – not to the driver or the owner of the car.

Beyond just the law though, as passengers, we have a responsibility to keep ourselves, the driver, and other road users safe. In Merseyside we share the roads, and we share the responsibility.

Here are some of the most common distractions for drivers that could lead to a collision:

Talking to the driver

Even the best multi-tasker, navigating junctions, roundabouts and any number of potential road hazards while having a conversation can be a big ask.

Try to be mindful of what the driver is having to focus on while you’re talking to them. Try to wait for calm and quiet stretches of road before going in for a big chat. Try and save emotional or hilarious conversations for off the road, or at least for a part of the journey where the driver isn’t having to navigate something complex.

Party passengers

Drunk passengers can be a massive distraction for the driver. If they’re having to focus on what their passengers are doing, they can’t focus on the road. Even well-meant actions by passengers in high spirits can end up putting everyone in the car in danger. Trying to get the driver to take a mouthful of cheesy chips, for example, or cranking up the music suddenly, could cause a collision.

Trying to get the driver’s attention

It’s really unfair on the driver if they end up with points on their licence or a ban because a passenger tried to shove a phone in their face to show them something (and the penalty is always to the driver). Likewise, trying to show them something out the window, check if you have something in your teeth, or look at the spider on the dashboard could all lead to the driver getting prosecuted for not driving with due care and attention.


Kids are the ultimate distracting passengers. They want to show us things. They have arguments over who’s taking up leg room. They kick the back of our seats. They have tantrums. It’s incredibly hard to ignore children when they want attention – but the driver has to.

Try to talk to children about how important it is for the driver to keep thinking about their driving and the road before you next get in the car. Try putting pens and paper, books and even tablets in the back so that they’ve got something to do. Remind them when you’re driving that you’re doing a job.

‘I really want to look at that picture/hear what you have to say/talk about this, and I will, as soon as we stop driving. My job is keeping us safe. When I’ve finished that job, I can look/listen/talk.’

We all know that children create mini-emergencies though, so if you have to pull over, do it safely.


We love our pets, and if they distract us, we’re putting them, as well as ourselves, our passengers and other road users in danger.

Make sure that you carry your pet in a suitable crate/box or that they are secure using a harness. This way they stay safe and there’s less chance of them distracting you while you are driving. A comfortable pet is a calm pet, and a calm pet is one that isn’t going to suddenly need your attention.

If possible, when you’re carrying a pet for the first time, take someone along with you in the car who can take on the responsibility of looking after the pet. That way, all of you stay safe, and the driver isn’t likely to fall foul of the law by not being in proper control or driving carelessly.

Peer pressure

How to stop being pressured by passengers when you’re driving

6 steps from a psychologist to stop the pressure:

  1. Start with ‘no
    You’re more powerful than you realise. Leaders don’t always have to justify why they don’t want to do something (and it’s more than likely, the person putting the pressure on knows exactly what they’re suggesting is a bad idea anyway). If you start with humour or an excuse, the person might think you can be persuaded, so only move on to those if saying an outright ‘no’ doesn’t work.
  2. Use humour
    If the pressure keeps coming, try making a joke to diffuse the situation. For example, ‘I actually like my face the way it is rather than having it splattered flat by the windscreen.’
  3. Make an excuse
    If saying ‘no’ and using humour hasn’t eased the pressure, try an excuse. This could be a personal statement about you:
    ‘I’m not that kind of person’
    Or, you could use a personal consequence
    ‘If I get caught doing that my parents have said they’ll take the car off me, and I don’t want to walk everywhere.’
  4. Change the subject
    As soon as you’ve made your excuse or said ‘no’, try changing the subject to something else that your passenger will want to talk about – maybe a piece of news or gossip, or by asking a question to your passenger about themselves:
    ‘Is Olivia talking to you again yet?’
  5. Reverse the pressure
    Most people by now will have stopped pressuring you. If for some reason they’re still at it, try flipping the situation:
    ‘Why do you care so much if we speed up? We’re still going to get there. This seems to be a really big deal to you.’
    Most people will then say it doesn’t matter to them and drop it. Try slipping another change of subject in afterwards so they don’t get too defensive.
  6. The ‘broken record’ technique
    If someone just won’t get the message, you’re going to have to do what parents do with toddlers, and just keep saying ‘no’. Don’t keep making excuses, just say ‘no’ each time, and carry on doing what you’re doing. It can be stressful, but ultimately, the power is in your hands, and they’re being unreasonable to keep piling pressure on when you’ve been clear it’s not what you want to do.


If you’re travelling with a passenger who you’re having to use all these techniques on, it’s probably a good idea to speak to them about it before you drive with them again. You can go in light, with something like:

‘When we’re driving can you not keeping nagging me?’

Or be more definite:

‘It’s not acceptable when I’m driving for you to keep putting pressure on me to do things differently – if you want to drive with me – it has to stop.’

You know your passenger/passengers, and what will work best. At the end of the day though, you’re the one behind the wheel, and you’re the one that will have to live with the consequences when something goes wrong.