Distracted driving: Can your insurance claim be denied?

We all know we’re not supposed to use our phones while driving. But it’s not just checking messages that’s the problem. Talking on the phone, applying makeup, eating and drinking, adjusting the radio, or using the navigation system while the car is moving all significantly raise your risk of having an accident.

In fact, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents on South Africa’s roads, warns King Price’s client experience partner, Wynand van Vuuren.

“Distracted driving isn’t just about using your phone while driving. Anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off the task at hand, could endanger you, your passengers and other road users,” says Van Vuuren.

Even seemingly harmless behaviour like quickly reading a WhatsApp message can lead to disaster. It takes 5 seconds to read an average WhatsApp message. If you’re driving at 90km/h, that’s like driving the length of a rugby field with your eyes closed.

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study in the United States found that texting while driving raises your chance of having an accident by 23 times. Simply dialling a number makes you 6 times more likely to have an accident. Tests show the reaction times of a texting driver are slower (35%) than that of drunk drivers (12%).

The human and financial cost of car accidents is staggering. According to the International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Road Safety Annual Report, car accidents cost the South African economy R143 billion in 2018. In that year, the country saw 22.4 traffic deaths per 100 000 inhabitants, compared to 4.9 in the European Union.

In 2022, 162 people died on South Africa’s roads over Easter, with drunk driving, speeding, driving while tired or distracted, and pedestrian accidents playing a major role in the death rate. Research suggests that human error accounts for 8 out of every 10 road accidents  in South Africa.

Can your distracted driving lead to any insurance claims being denied? Not at this stage, says Van Vuuren. “While it’s both dangerous and illegal to use your mobile phone while driving, it’s sometimes hard to prove that distracted driving is the cause of an accident,” he says.

“But this doesn’t mean that you should risk it. The bottom-line is that our roads are already dangerous, with potholes, traffic lights being out due to loadshedding, and pedestrians crossing. If you add messages, make-up and padkos to the mix, you’re simply creating an unbearable level of risk – for you, your passengers, and other road users.”