Aviva's Maurice Tulloch on distracted driving becoming the new drink-driving

Maurice Tulloch

  • The UN is aiming to half global deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020
  • Over the past 25 years, alcohol-related driving fatalities have decreased by 83% in the UK
  • Almost half of the population admits to having made calls, looked at their maps or unlocked their phone on the road

Drinking and driving is simply not acceptable to today's society. Why then, asks Maurice Tulloch, CEO Aviva International Insurance, is the same stigma not yet attached to using a phone will driving?

My two teenage children, who are just starting to drive, would never think of getting behind the wheel after drinking. And hopefully they would not get into a car with a drunk driver. They’ve grown up in a society and a time where drinking and driving is simply not acceptable. However, the lines are far more blurred when it comes to texting, programming their GPS or changing their Spotify playlist.

Distracted driving is fast becoming an epidemic. Over 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Evidence such as lack of tire marks on the road, which prove that the driver didn’t react in time to brake, show that a significant proportion of accidents are due to driver distractions. So it’s only natural that when the United Nations set a target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020, it included a specific call to state members to “consider implementing appropriate, effective and evidence-based legislation on other risk factors related to distracted or impaired driving”.

Since the 1970s, governments across the world have consistently taken action to reduce the death toll caused by drunk driving, from countless campaigns to raise awareness to increasingly tougher penalties for offending drivers. The legal alcohol limit has been gradually decreased over the years, and in countries such as Indonesia or parts of Canada any amount of alcohol is illegal. These efforts have paid off – over the past 25 years, alcohol-related driving fatalities have decreased by 65% in the US and by a staggering 83% in the UK. Younger generations, like my children’s, haven’t known a time where drinking and driving was considered admissible. So why not tackle distraction with the same focus and determination? Why not make distracted driving the new drunk driving?

It is quite telling that tolerance towards distracted driving is still high. While only one in eight drivers would admit to driving after drinking alcohol, almost half of the population happily admits to having made calls, looked at their maps – digital or paper – or unlocked their phone on the road. The discrepancy is extreme in certain countries. In China for example, a worrying three in four drivers admit to taking phone calls while driving, while only 8% would drink and drive. This gap demonstrates we have a long way to go to get across the message that, simply and bluntly, distraction can kill.

Drivers have always multitasked, and there have always been multiple sources and forms of distraction. In fact, 90% of road accidents are caused by ‘human error’, which ultimately comes down to drivers taking, in one way or another, their eyes, hands or minds off the wheel. The difference now is that technology is making it easier and more tempting than ever – it’s no longer just taking a quick call, some drivers are moving on to making a quick call, taking a quick selfie or quickly posting on Facebook. The catalogue of available distractions is evolving and our addiction is growing. The world is increasingly used to always being connected and responding immediately, whether it’s urgent or not, and some are transferring this habit to their driving.

Ironically, the same technology that is now adding to the problem may help solve it eventually. For example, with autonomous cars we may be able to take a back seat, literally. But in the meantime, it is crucial to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as it is to drink and drive. Let’s all put distractions aside, focus and enjoy the journey.

  • LinkedIn  
  • Save this article
  • Print this page  

You need to sign in to use this feature. If you don’t have an Insurance Post account, please register for a trial.

Sign in
You are currently on corporate access.

To use this feature you will need an individual account. If you have one already please sign in.

Sign in.

Alternatively you can request an indvidual account here: