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The UK's biggest driving distractions

Driving requires a lot of focus, and there are many things that can distract us while behind the wheel. These distractions can vary between the day and night-time, from other drivers on the road to dazzling headlights. In some cases, serious distractions could cause an accident, which could have a knock-on effect on your car insurance.

But there are some ways you can minimise your distractions while driving. We've compiled some helpful tips on how to prepare for them.

Daytime vs night-time: top 5 driving distractions

Being distracted could lead to some pretty serious consequences. In fact, 1 in 7 (14%) drivers have had an accident or near miss due to being distracted while driving. That's according to a survey of 2,000 UK drivers, which reveals the biggest distractions on the road, and how this varies depending on the time of day.

Many things can cause a driving distraction, like the weather or other drivers on the road. And these can vary depending on the time of day.

View night time distractions
View day time distractions

Headlights from other vehicles 70%

Poor street lighting 38%

Roads looking unfamiliar 29%

Unclear road signs 25%

Worrying about things jumping out in front 23%

If you're worried about driving distractions or distracting other drivers, here are some things you can do to minimise these risks.

Daytime driving distractions

1. Headlights from other vehicles are the biggest distraction for drivers at any time of day, according to our research. You may need to use your headlights in the daytime in poor weather, like fog, rain or snow. But if you're facing oncoming traffic, always dip your lights to avoid dazzling other drivers.

2. Busy traffic can be distracting, so it's best to avoid it if you can. Nearly 3 in 10 (29%) people find either the morning (7am–9:59am) or afternoon and evening (3pm–6:59pm) rush hour the most distracting time of day to drive.

If you can, start your journey slightly earlier or later than planned to avoid busy periods. In our research, more than a third (34%) of UK drivers said they already do this to avoid a distracting journey.

By not driving during these busy periods, you'll avoid being stuck in slow-moving traffic. You'll also help to keep the roads clear for drivers that can't avoid rush hour.

3. Other drivers can distract you while you're driving, which is why it's important to be aware of your surroundings. On quieter roads, some drivers may be tempted to speed, or you might find yourself being tailgated on the motorway. In either case, always stay calm and try to keep your focus on the road.

But it's also worth remembering that you could cause a distraction for other drivers on the road if you're not paying attention. So be mindful of your driving habits by not getting too close to the car in front or attempting to undertake.

4. Cyclists can be distracting at times, especially if you're in a busy area. If this is something you're likely to find distracting, then it's best to carefully plan your route if you know there are lots of cyclists around. This may be the case in the city centre or a highly populated area.

It's also important to be aware of new driving laws. The updated Highway Code says that cyclists, along with other vulnerable road users, have more priority on the road. You should leave a safe distance between your vehicle and cyclists so you can focus on your driving and be less distracted by other road users.

5. Weather can be unpredictable, which is why it's always useful to check the forecast before you set off on your journey. This is the best way to prepare for distracting weather, and you can decide if it's safe to drive or better to wait. More than 1 in 4 (28%) drivers we surveyed said they check the weather forecast before they drive to prepare for or avoid a distraction.

Night-time distractions

1. Headlights from other vehicles are the top distraction for both daytime and night-time driving. To limit the impact of this at night, it can help to keep your windscreen clean as dirt can increase glare. Adjusting your rear-view mirror could also help reduce glare from vehicles behind you.

If you wear glasses, try lenses with an anti-reflective coating to reduce the glare from oncoming headlights. If you find that other vehicles’ headlights are making it difficult for you to drive, consider seeing an optician.

2. Poor street lighting can lower visibility. We asked drivers to rate their confidence from 1 to 5 when it comes to driving in the dark. Our research revealed that drivers were confident, rating themselves 4 out of 5, on average.

But road visibility is lower at night, so drivers should still be cautious. It's also worth being mindful of other road users that may not feel as confident driving in the dark.

To improve visibility, turn on your headlights if you're driving around 1 hour before the sun sets. Or if you're driving in the morning, wait until around an hour after the sun rises before turning them off. This can make it easier for other drivers to see you. You can use full beam if needed and it's safe to do so but remember to dip your headlights if there's oncoming traffic.

3. Roads looking unfamiliar can be disorienting, which is why it's useful to familiarise yourself with the route on a map before you leave. This way, you'll know exactly where you're going. Sat navs are also a useful tool if you plan on driving somewhere new.

It's usually best to give yourself plenty of time if the route is unfamiliar, so you won't have to rush. If you're using a sat nav, you should enter your destination before you leave. Almost a third (32%) of drivers we surveyed said they do this to avoid being distracted by unfamiliar surroundings.

4. Unclear road signs are distracting and can cause an accident or near miss. If a road sign is unclear or not visible, you can slow down to try and get a better look - but be mindful of potential hazards. If you're not confident with your road sign knowledge, it may be worth re-looking at the Highway Code. You can refresh your memory on existing road signs or learn about new ones.

5. Worrying about things appearing in front of your vehicle can also be distracting. More than 2 in 5 drivers (23%) told us that they're worried about things appearing in front of their vehicles when they drive at night. This is where route planning can come in handy. Do some online research to learn more about the area you'll be driving in.

For example, if you're in an area with lots of wildlife, you can prepare to slow down and watch out for animals that might wander in front of your car. If you're in a residential area, keep an eye out for pedestrians crossing the street. They may not be as easily visible at night, especially if they're wearing dark clothing.

Driving in the dark can make it harder to see further in front of you, especially if there's heavy rain or fog. So be alert, and make sure you're a safe distance behind the car in front of you.

Consequences of distracted driving and how it can impact your car insurance

Distracted driving could have bigger consequences than you think if you're the one that caused the accident. You could be prosecuted for careless driving. The consequences for this offence can vary, but our research shows that the average driver who had this penalty received:

  • 6 points on their licence
  • A £447 fine

But there are times when drivers could face steeper penalties. More than 2 in 5 (43%) drivers we surveyed had 7–8 points on their licence due to an accident caused by distracted driving. These points could stay on your driving record for 4 or 11 years, depending on the offence.

Other distractions can have more serious consequences than others, like using your mobile phone to answer a call or respond to a text. Don't forget, it's not only dangerous, but it's also illegal. You could face a £200 fine and 6 points on your licence if you're caught using your phone while driving.

If you're not using your phone as a sat nav, keep it out of sight so it can't be a distraction. More than 1 in 5 (21%) drivers we surveyed said they already do this.

But these aren't the only consequences of distracted driving. If you were to have an accident or gain points on your licence, you'll likely see your car insurance prices increase when it comes time to renew.

Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com says:

"There are lots of reasons why you might feel distracted when behind the wheel. Our latest research suggests there are some similarities when it comes to the biggest driving distractions, no matter the time of day. But the impact of these can vary depending on how light or dark it is outside.

"While some may be outside of anyone's control, it's important to be aware of possible driving distractions and how best to limit them. For example, if you're not confident driving when it's dark, you could ask someone else to drive or only travel during the day.

"Driving distractions can have serious consequences. An accident or near miss due to distracted driving could be classed as careless driving. This can lead to points on your licence, fines and even prosecution. Receiving any of these penalties could also affect car insurance costs in the future.

“As drivers, we have a duty of care to keep both ourselves and each other safe. That's why it's important to stay vigilant and take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of distraction."