By Daniel Machin
Motorists typically get distracted for a tenth of the time they are out and about, research shows.
A study from the United States found that for 10 per cent of their journey they are engaging in activities that cause concentration to wander away from what is happening beyond the windscreen.
Eating, drinking and texting are just some of the things making drivers take their eyes off the road.
These distracting practices are particularly dangerous for novice drivers, although they are even risky for the most experienced motorists out there.
For the study, the researchers analysed video footage from cameras installed in the cars of around 150 drivers.
Around a quarter of them had obtained their driving licences no more than three weeks earlier, while the remainder had, on average, 20 years of motoring experience and ranged in age from 18 to 72.
All of the participants were filmed over a period of 12 to 18 months.
Driving data, including acceleration, sudden braking, swerving and drifting out of a lane, was also recorded using sensors fitted to the cars.
Teenagers most likely to crash
When a crash or near miss occurred, the research team noted whether the driver was engaged in distracting activity.
Instances included talking, dialling, reaching for a mobile phone or other object in the car, altering temperature or radio controls, eating, drinking, looking at something outside other than the road, or adjusting a mirror, seat belt or window.
Predictably, teenagers who had recently passed their test were most likely to crash or experience a near miss as a result of being distracted.
For these novices, the risk of a crash or near miss was raised eight times while dialling, seven to eight times when reaching for a phone or other object, almost four times when texting, and three times while eating
'Dial-and-drive' crash risk
Even for the most experienced adult motorists, however, the risk of crashing or narrowly avoiding a collision more than doubled if they tried to "dial-and-drive".
"Anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road can be dangerous," said Dr Bruce Simons-Morton, co-author from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda.
"But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven't developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel."