Distractions in everyday driving.

Stutts, J.C. Feaganes, J. Rodgman, E. Hamlett, C. Meadows, T. Reinfurt, D. Gish, K. Mercadante, M. & Staplin, L.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that driver inattention or distraction is responsible for 25% to 30% of police-reported traffic crashes, or an estimated 1.2 million crashes per year (Sundeen, 2002; Shelton, 2001). This study performed for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is one of only a few studies identified in the literature to examine the full range of distractions contributing to crashes. The objective of this study was to determine the occurrence in the U.S. driving population of the various driver distractions and to examine the potential consequences of these distractions on driving performance. The methodology developed for the field data collection activities entailed a camera unit containing three miniature video cameras, a recording unit containing a VCR and battery packaged in a closed container, cables for connecting the two units, and a trigger device that automatically powered the units whenever the vehicle was turned on. The recording equipment was installed in the vehicles of 70 volunteer subjects, equally distributed among males and females in five age groups: 18-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60+. Half the subjects were recruited from a base in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and half from Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. Subjects were informed only that the study was being conducted to learn "how traffic and roadway conditions affect driving behaviour." They were instructed to "drive normally" and scheduled to return one week later for removal of the equipment. Results revealed that distractions are a common component of everyday driving. During their three hours of coded driving time, nearly all subjects were observed manipulating vehicle controls (such as air conditioning or window controls) and reaching for objects inside their moving vehicle. Nearly as many were observed manipulating music/audio controls, or had their attention drawn to something outside the vehicle. Approximately three-fourths ate or drank something while driving or conversed with a passenger. Reading/writing and grooming activities were also relatively common, but declined to less than half of the participants when observations were restricted to moving vehicles only. About a third of the subjects used a cell phone while driving, and nearly as many were distracted by passengers riding in their vehicle. Taking into account the shorter amount of time that children and especially babies were carried in vehicles, children were about four times and infants almost eight times more likely than adults to be a source of distraction to the driver, based on number of distracting events per hour of driving. Although recent research has primarily been focused on the safety implications of wireless communications and other in-vehicle technologies, the results have demonstrated that many driver distractions are neither new nor technological in nature. Rather, they are aspects of everyday driving that people are likely to seldom think about. A challenge for the highway safety community is to develop effective strategies for modifying people's driving behaviour, so that they do not engage in these potentially dangerous activities at inappropriate times while driving. The human element is, and always has been, the most difficult to influence in the quest for increased safety on our roadways. (Author/publisher) See also C 25996, and C 22780 (ITRD E206577).


C 25997 [electronic version only]

Washington, D.C., American Automobile Association AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2003, 104 p., 14 ref.

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