Nearly 10 Percent Of Driving Time Occurs While Distracted: Study
January 2, 2014

Nearly 10 Percent Of Driving Time Occurs While Distracted: Study

[ Watch the Video: Teens Drivers And Distracted Driving ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Drivers spend approximately 10 percent of the time behind the wheel taking their eyes off of the road to deal with phone calls, text messages or other distractions, according to a new study appearing Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Furthermore, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Virginia Tech found that newly-licensed teenage drivers were significantly more likely than adults to be involved in a crash or near miss due to distracted driving, according to research using video technology and in-vehicle sensors.

“Anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road can be dangerous,” said study co-author Dr. Bruce Simons-Morton of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven't developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.”

However, according to the Associated Press (AP), the research did deliver one surprising result: it said that simply talking on the phone was not necessarily dangerous, though it did not differentiate between regular phone conversations and use of a hands-free device.

Even so, the study authors warned that drivers did face phone-related risks from behaviors such as taking their eyes off the road in order to dial a number. Study co-author and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute director Tom Dingus said that separating talking and dialing tasks during their research discovered that the former did not increase crash risks, while the act of dialing did.

As part of the study, the researchers installed video cameras, GPS systems, land trackers and other gizmos designed to measure things like speed and acceleration in the cars of 42 newly-licensed 16- or 17-year-old drivers, as well as 109 adults who had been driving for an average of 20 years. Data from the adult drivers were collected over the course of one year, while the younger drivers were tracked for a span of 18 months.

“The risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialing or reaching for a cellphone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message. The risk also rose if they were reaching for something other than a phone, looking at a roadside object or eating,” wrote AP. “Among older drivers, only dialing a cellphone increased the chances of a crash or near miss.”

Furthermore, the data obtained through the study showed that rookie drivers spent less time engaging in secondary tasks than experienced drivers during the first six months, but that the two groups spent an equal amount of time engaged in non-driving tasks during the seventh through fifteenth months. Novices were more likely to be distracted by other tasks by the sixteenth month, and their distracted driving frequency doubled during the study’s final three months.

“Novice drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk secondary tasks more frequently over time as they became more comfortable with driving,” explained first author Charlie Klauer, group leader for teen risk and injury prevention (TRIP) at the transportation institute. “The increasingly high rates of secondary task engagement among newly licensed novice drivers in our study are worrisome as this appears to be an important contributing factor to crashes or near-crashes.”

“Newly licensed novice drivers are of course at a particularly high crash risk, in part because driving is a complicated task and novices tend to make more mistakes when learning a new task,” she added. “In previous studies we found that crash or near-crash rates among the novice drivers were nearly four times higher than for experienced drivers. Therefore, it should not be surprising that secondary task engagement contributes to this heightened risk among novice drivers.”