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Key findings from focus group research on inside-the-vehicle distractions in New Zealand.
Overall, participants did not see inside-the-vehicle distractions as an important road safety problem. Inside-the-vehicle distractions are seen as part of a larger set of distractions that drivers have to contend with everyday, and these distractions are accepted as a normal part of driving. Many participants thought these distractions were ‘within the driver’s control’, and could be stopped at any time to deal with a traffic situation posing more risk. Some distractions like disruptive passengers were thought to be outside of a driver’s control. The participants perceived safety issues to be related to a driver having their eyes off the road and sometimes only one hand (or no hands) on the steering wheel. There was some understanding of the role cognition plays in being able to complete tasks. The participants thought distractions posed more of a risk and reduced their ability to concentrate on driving when they were ‘overloaded’ and/or feeling ‘emotional’. Other factors such as their familiarity with the road being driven affected the amount of attention required for driving. The participants discussed a wide range of inside-the-vehicle distractions while driving and the associated behaviours (e.g., text-messaging, interacting with a passenger, reaching for an item, rolling a cigarette, selecting a CD, adjusting the climate control, eating and drinking etc.). Some of the behaviours such as text-messaging and rolling a cigarette were very concerning from a road safety point of view. However, the participants did use strategies to minimise the risk, for example, pre-selecting a CD, using a hands-free cell phone kit and choosing a time to engage in a distracting task when there was less traffic, the traffic was still or moving slowly. The researchers concluded that certain behaviours such as dialling and text-messaging on a cell phone, reading a map, and rolling a cigarette while driving were more likely to be affected by a public awareness campaign as there was a greater understanding of their road safety implications. The researchers recommended that a public awareness campaign should focus on the attention required for driving, as this was more meaningful for drivers and would stop them from classifying distractions into things they can and cannot control.