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Less drunk, but more driving - Can lockdown make you forget how to drive?


• Auto & General's claim trends show less drunk, but more negligent driving, as well as an increase in smaller accidents and single vehicle accidents.

• The reduction in DUI could possibly be due to limitations on alcohol sales and social gatherings.

• The increase in other accidents could be due to small mistakes or mishaps due to drivers being out of practice because of lockdown.


 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. 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. It is something that isn't only limited to South Africa. In the UK, onefifth of motorists were reported to have struggled with driving when returning to the road after


Science also confirms that lockdown can indeed make you forget how to 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 combines some procedural memory, short-term memory and longterm 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:

Avoiding a mental crash

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 as 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. Instead, 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 a 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. If disaster strikes, it's a must to have good, comprehensive insurance in place.


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By Ricardo Coetzee Head of Auto & General Insurance
Article featured in Wheels24