Driver distraction and inattention in road traffic and the resulting accidents have become a world-wide problem. Drivers are often tempted to use their mobile phones while driving, even though all disruptive use of communication devices is forbidden by Finnish law. The law allows the use of a mobile phone if the phone is equipped with a handsfree system. The restrictions on mobile phone use are due to the fact that studies have shown the risk of accident is increased for drivers using a mobile phone while driving.

A driver’s distraction and inattention refers to the driver’s attention being targeted at activities other than those required for safe driving.

Driver distraction and inattention disrupts the driving in three primary ways: 

  • Firstly, the driver’s gaze may be drawn away from the traffic
  • Secondly, his/her hand may be drawn away from the vehicle’s controls and
  • Finally, his/her cognitive processes may be drawn away from the task of driving.

In terms of accident risk, the most critical activities are those which involve the driver’s gaze and thoughts being drawn away from the traffic situations for extended periods of time. The use of electronic devices while driving is not the only cause of driver distraction and inattention.

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Driver's distraction in Finland

According to the Finnish road accident investigation teams, on average, the use of a mobile phone is found to be a background risk in the accident in three fatal accidents per year. Using the currently available statistics, it is not possible to determine the frequency of driver distraction and inattention in accidents that lead to injuries or property damage.

In a report made by Liikenneturva, four out of ten motorists who had used a mobile phone while driving stated that they had been involved in a dangerous situation in the past two years as a result of their mobile phone use. Less than one per cent of the respondents had been involved in accidents.

When driving, drivers are more likely to answer incoming phone calls than to make outgoing calls. Four out of five will answer incoming calls while driving. Two out of three will make calls. Messages, too, are more often read than written while driving. One third of all respondents read text messages and social media messages. One quarter writes them while driving. Messaging while driving was slightly more common among young people than among older drivers. Compared to older drivers, the younger group regards mobile use related traffic offences as slightly less serious. 

The distracting effect of mobile phones on driving is well acknowledged. Three out of four consider using a mobile phone while driving to be dangerous. The majority of drivers avoid phone use when driving. The risk is also observed by those riding in a car as passengers while the driver is talking on the phone. In these cases, most would prefer to ask the driver to concentrate on the driving.

Four out of five Finns consider text messaging and social media related messaging while driving to be a serious or very serious offence.