Auto & General Insurance’s year-on-year claim trends recently found that, even though DUI related claims declined, there was an increase in accidents caused by negligent driving, smaller accidents and accidents with only one vehicle involved. This begs the question: Can lockdown make you forget how to drive?
“When comparing the data from March 2020 and March 2021, the new year saw 30% fewer DUI claims as a percentage of total accidents than the previous year. This was likely due to limitations on the sale of alcohol and social gatherings,” says Ricardo Coetzee, Head of Auto & General Insurance. “Interestingly, however, the number of accident claims for reckless driving has increased by 27% – proportionally – at the same time.”
Smaller accidents – where less than 20% of the insured value of a vehicle was claimed – made up 52.5% of total accident claims and 52.7% of accidents involved a single vehicle.
“This could indicate small mistakes or mishaps by drivers who are out of practice because they drove less during lockdown,” says Coetzee, “This is something that isn’t only limited to South Africa. In the UK, one-fifth of motorists were reported to have struggled with driving when returning to the road after lockdown.”
Science also confirms that lockdown can indeed make you forget how do drive
According to Dr. Michael B. Huth, Specialist Neurologist from the Neurological Association of South Africa: “Experienced drivers can certainly suffer from skills-fade, depending on time away from driving, but if you were a new driver before lockdown, are a nervous driver, have physical or neurological impairments, or weren’t a frequent driver, you may be especially vulnerable.”
The science behind driving, in brief
Dr. Huth says that the brain keeps the motor, sensory and behavioural skills needed to drive in two main areas:
Procedural Motor Task Memory (‘muscle memory’) that experienced drivers build up with repetition and practice. This type of memory is more resistant to fading with age.
Working Memory – which is a combination of some procedural memory, short-term memory and long-term memory, interacting with sensory inputs and monitoring of the motor output during driving – and tends to mature, stabilise and then slowly fade with age.
Driving rallies four key components of the brain:
– The frontal lobe monitors motor skills, engages working memory with executive functions and houses emotional maturity in impulse control needed for safe driving. – The parietal lobe integrates information from our senses to form perceptions, and the representation of these perceptions in the world around us. – The occipital lobe, the centre of visual perception, is key to drive safely. – The cerebellum has the most impact, after the frontal lobe, on coordination of motor skills and procedural memory of motor tasks essential to driving. Confidence, calm state of mind and emotional wellbeing are also an important component.
Dr. Huth says that this complex system functions much like a symphony played by an orchestra, with a lack of development, practice or healthy maintenance on any of the parts being a risk for the entire system to come crashing down.
To avoid this, Auto & General Insurance provides the following tips:
– Admit it: Acknowledge the fact that your driving ability may have dropped a couple of notches due to lack of practice, no matter how experienced you are. – By the book: Revise the typical traffic challenges you faced when you drove more often and make sure you know how to address them while adhering to the rules of the road. – Check-up: Lockdown may not have been kind to your car, so be sure to do a check before you drive. Deflated tyres, flat batteries, dust build-up and unlubricated parts (that would typically have had oil, fuel or water running through them) are some common culprits. – Get reacquainted: Things may have changed on a road you haven’t travelled in a while. New speed bumps, potholes, new stop signs and traffic lights are all things to look out for. – Take it slow: Lower your speed and ease back into driving. Tackle easier, less congested routes first before getting back into the proverbial fast lane. – Avoid distractions: If your mind and body are still getting used to driving like you used to, being distracted by a cell phone, passengers, food or other culprits is a big NO. – Healthy driving: Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough rest are key to good driving, whether returning after lockdown or not. – Phone a friend: If you’re not up to driving under certain conditions yet, don’t take a chance. Rather phone a friend or a taxi to help you out, especially if you’re in a higher risk group. – Refresh: A refresher course with an instructor is never a bad idea, especially if you’ve spent lengthy amount of time off the road. They could point out errors that put your life in danger and help you to correct them.
“It may sound ridiculous to say that you can forget how to drive, but science supports it. One error can cost you large sums of money or even your life, so it’s best to proactively focus on sharpening your skills. In the event that disaster does strike, it’s a must to have good, comprehensive insurance in place,” concludes Coetzee.
Safe Driving After an Extended Break from Driving