How does distraction affect driver behaviour?


Distraction affects a number of essential aspects of driving skills [20]. Drivers zigzag more, for example during telephone calls, operation of screens or sending or reading text messages. In addition, drivers engaged in distracting activities miss all kinds of relevant matters. Taking one’s eyes off the road is the main cause, as happens during typing or updating a social network site. However, even when one’s eyes are on the road, cognitive distraction, for example on account of a phone call, may result in inattention to relevant matters. The driver looks in the right direction but does not consciously perceive an important object (this phenomenon is known as ‘inattentional blindness’) [21]. Moreover, distracted drivers are slower to react environment changes. Phoning drivers start braking later in response to a braking vehicle in front of them and eventually brake more forcefully. Distraction also often results in diminished speed and greater distance headways. Thus, road users seem to compensate for the effects of distraction. A recent Dutch driving simulator study of the effect of texting shows that, while texting, drivers do diminish their speed, but simultaneously vary their speed more, zigzag more and check their mirrors less often. Differences between handheld texting (which is prohibited) and texting while using the phone in a holder (which is allowed) were not found [22]. Also see the question What do regulations about phone use in traffic amount to? Distraction proves to result in deteriorated driving behaviour, even after completion of the distracting task. An Australian driving simulator study shows that the detection of peripheral signals, and variation of speed and lateral position are adversely affected during the forty seconds after completion of the distracting task, with the strongest effect in the first ten seconds [23].

Part of fact sheet

Distraction in traffic

The mobile phone is symbolic of ‘distraction in traffic’.

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