By Lauren Ferrone | Illustrations by Thomas Oates
Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2022
From fiddling with the sat-nav and listening to loud music, to innocently sipping coffee, it only takes a split second for a driver to lose concentration. But there’s another distraction just as dangerous – your passengers.
Cruising around with company has its benefits. Who doesn’t want someone to talk to during those long, boring commutes? But when passengers negatively impact your ability to remain in control of the vehicle, it can be dangerous.
Three really is a crowd
Carrying two to three passengers under the age of 21 increases the risk of a young driver crashing by four to five times compared to driving alone, according to the SA Government’s Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DIT).
New drivers aren’t the only ones impacted by poor passenger behaviour. No matter how long you’ve had your driver’s licence, distractions don’t discriminate. We’ve created the video below to highlight five ways passengers can distract drivers and how to deal with it.
1. When the passenger judges your driving
“Go a bit faster. Brake,” says the backseat driver. Excessive comments about the driver’s actions are not only annoying but also distracting, as it can make the person at the wheel second guess themselves.
But it’s not all bad. Switched-on passengers can also act as a second set of eyes and spot hazards on the road.
A study in 2020 by New Zealand’s University of Waikato found that after the age of 24, a passenger in a car can decrease your chances of having a crash.
How to deal with it: RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain says the driver needs to remind passengers they’re in charge of everyone’s safety.
Simply ask yourself if their opinion is helping prevent a potentially dangerous situation or causing it.
2. When your passenger turns the music up too loud
If your passengers aren’t listening to your requests to behave, perhaps they can’t hear you over the blaring music pumping through the car’s speakers.
“Loud music means you can’t hear what’s going on around you, like the screeching brakes from a vehicle ahead, sirens from an emergency service vehicle or noises from your own vehicle indicating something isn’t quite right,” Mr Mountain says.
How to deal with it: If a passenger is fiddling with the volume – or the vehicle’s other controls – simply explain that it’s distracting and you’d prefer if they asked first.
3. When your passenger gives you directions
It can be frustrating when well-intentioned passengers try to give you directions. “Left, right, I mean left.”
Giving directions is perhaps the most common cause of arguments between a passenger and driver. It can also be dangerous.
Research by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre revealed interactions between drivers and passengers caused about 5% of distraction-related crashes in 2020. This included talking, arguing and giving wrong directions to drivers.
How to deal with it: Familiarise yourself with the route before you leave home to avoid relying too much on your passengers. If all else fails, stop where it’s safe and check the directions.
Did you know?
Passengers can be fined this much, plus a $92 Victims of Crime Levy, for obstructing the driver’s view of the road.
4. When your passenger tries to show you something on their mobile phone
Your passenger is sharing a hilarious video of a dog doing the moonwalk and you take a little peek. In this moment, you’re breaking the law.
“Looking at your passenger’s phone is equivalent to pulling out your own,” Mr Mountain says.
As the driver, you have a responsibility to keep your eyes on the road at all times.
According to DIT, using a mobile phone while driving increases your risk of crashing by at least four times. The deadly consequences are the same even if you’re looking at your passenger’s phone.
How to deal with it: The onus is on you, as the driver, to inform your passengers you need to concentrate and can have a look when you’re safely parked.
5. When tiny passengers demand your attention
That tiny, but loud, human screaming at the top of their lungs in the back seat is hard to ignore.
Researchers found that drivers in the study took their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip. The majority were guilty of turning to look at the child in the back seat or watching the rear-view mirror (76.4%), while others were distracted by talking to the child (16%). Surprisingly, 1% admitted to playing with the child.
In 2013, research by Monash University found children were 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone while behind the wheel.
Panicked parents might start passing toys or snacks to their child from the driver’s seat to calm them, which actually breaks an important road rule.
In this instance, the driver may not have proper control of the vehicle. Chances are they also don’t have both hands on the wheel, which is required by law. For committing this offence, the driver can expect a $201 fine, plus $92 Victims of Crime Levy.
How to deal with it: You can’t exactly ignore your little ones. That’s why it’s safer to pull over if your child needs help or appears in distress.