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Stay Focused

Photograph of a driver yawning while driving on a country road

Forty-two per cent of all driver-related traffic incidents in Norfolk are a result of:

  • Some form of driver distraction 
  • A loss of concentration at the wheel.

It's easy to get distracted when taking a familiar journey. You may find that your brain has switched to autopilot. By autopilot we mean:

  • A mental state where you are not fully concentrating on driving
  • You expect to see the same things as last time you drove that route
  • You are remembering what you've done before rather than looking at what you see around you and looking for hazards in the present moment.

Your autopilot is not a good driver. It is not smart enough to carry out all the complex tasks required for safe driving. If you are driving in autopilot, you may not be able to react in time to changes or hazards.

Download our Stay Focused Toolkit for top tips to stay focused (PDF) [576KB].

Free online driver education course

Learn to be a safer driver with learning opportunities from Drive iQ's Smarter Driving course. To access free online learning on the Drive iQ learning platform, sign up at DriveiQ with your email address. Quote the MIS code norfolkcc and  use the invite code stayfocused in the message field. Limited to the first 500 sign ups.

Signs you may be driving on autopilot

  • Arriving at a familiar destination (such as your home) and realising you have no memory of the journey.
  • Missing a turning on a familiar route.
  • Thinking about something else and not the driving task.

Listen to our Train your brain podcast. Mind coach Gavin Drake shares his wisdom on driving on autopilot, why we do it and how we can train our brain to focus.

Take the How focused are you as a driver quiz from the Open University.

How to avoid driving on autopilot

Bring yourself back into conscious driving mode with these tips and guidance to help you stay focused at the wheel. 

The Commentary Drive - say what you see

List the safety related hazards which you see around you for a few minutes. What signs do you notice and events do you see? Saying them out loud as soon as you notice them will give your mind time to respond to events that you see and interpret.

Say what you see exercise (GIF)

Mindful driving

  • Practice mindful driving by noticing when your mind starts to wander.
  • Be conscious of the feel of your steering wheel, how you are sitting or the sound of your engine.
  • Practise conscious breathing when stationary at a red light and hold your-self accountable to commit to a focused drive for the whole journey.

Mindful driving exercise (GIF).

Consciously check the distance from the vehicle in front 

Work out if there's enough distance between you and the vehicle in front using the following steps.

  1. Pick a roadside marker on the side of the road. For example, a tree or a road sign.
  2. When the vehicle ahead passes that marker count how many seconds it takes for you to pass the same spot. It takes about two seconds to say the words: one thousand and one, one thousand and two. 
  3. You should leave at least a two second gap between you and the vehicle in front. If the road is wet or driving conditions are difficult, you'll need to leave a bigger gap. 

Check the distance exercise (GIF).

Preparing to leave

  • Set your music and other controls before you drive. Only adjust them when you have stopped.
  • Think about how you are feeling before you start your journey. Feeling physically unwell or experiencing high emotions, such as stress or anger, will affect your concentration.
  • Check your map or set your GPS before you start your journey.
  • Ensure children and pets are safely secured in the car. Check they have everything they need before your journey starts.
  • Put your phone in the glove compartment. If you have a drive safe mode, activate it before you drive.
  • Get a good night's sleep as it increases your attention and reaction time.

Your journey - keeping your mind on the drive

Passengers

  • Set expectations and remind passengers that you need to stay focused on driving.
  • Passengers can help drivers focus by pausing conversations in difficult road conditions.
  • Passengers should try to keep conversations simple and light.
  • Being a considerate passenger can help drivers to keep focused.

Breaks and pauses in journey

  • Plan breaks into your journey. Make sure you can rest and enjoy a meal or a snack outside the vehicle.
  • Pull over to make a call or wait until the end of your journey:
    • Having a hands-free conversation can be distracting 
    • Taking a call while driving might lead to you missing hazards or not being able to respond in time to changing circumstances.

Speed

  • Drive at a safe speed for the road and traffic conditions. Speed limits are the 'absolute maximum' and they are not a target.
  • You should always be able to stop in the distance that you can see to be clear ahead. For example, if you approach a corner, reduce your speed so you can predict what you can not see around the corner so you can stop your vehicle safely.
  • Even experienced and well rested drivers need time to react.

Observation plan

When you lose focus your eyes tend to stick to a fixed point on the road ahead of you:

  • Look near, middle, far and rear. This means glancing at something close to you, something further away, and something in the distance. The technique helps to funnel your vision.
  • Aim for 'funnel vision' not 'tunnel vision'. Driving at a safe and legal speed allows you to look far and wide. Vulnerable road users tend to come from the sides. Funnel vision means you will see and interpret key information from key angles, so you have time to adjust your driving.

Download our  FOCUS information sheet (PDF) [322KB] for top tips on keeping your brain focused at the wheel.

The fatigue danger zone

Fatigue can make your concentration lapse when you drive. Fatigue driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drink and drugs. 

Signs of fatigue

  • Blinking and eye rubbing.
  • Concentration lapses and inattention.
  • Looking straight ahead and not using mirrors.
  • Delayed reactions.

Take breaks

  • On long, planned, monotonous (motorway) journeys, take breaks.
  • We recommend a break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving.
  • If you feel at all sleepy, stop in a safe place as soon as you can.

If you are tired

Think about whether your journey is necessary. If you are asking yourself whether you are too tired to drive, you probably are. Recognise the warning signs and take responsible action.

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