ArticleIn this presentation, human factors expert, Nancy Grugle, PhD. provides an introductory course on the human factors of distracted driving.
The Epidemic of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving (Distraction.gov). In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 3,154 people killed and 424,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers (NHTSA, 2015). Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2013 were reported as distraction-affected crashes (NHTSA, 2015). Many experts believe that these numbers actually under-represent the number of crashes that involve distraction because they are relying on police reports and self-reporting of drivers. Regardless, these numbers indicate that distracted driving is a dangerous problem that is likely to increase as the use of in-vehicle technology and personal electronic devices while driving increases.
What is Distracted Driving?
In general, distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention away from activities critical for safe driving. Driving distractions can be categorized into three main areas: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions are objects that take the driver’s visual attention away from the road and driving environment. Manual distractions are objects that take a driver’s hands off the wheel. Cognitive distraction involves a driver using their brain to process information not related to the driving task. Many distractions require visual, manual, and cognitive resources all at the same time, which is the riskiest type of distraction.
Are all distractions equal?
All distractions increase crash risk. Different methods are used to measure the crash risk of different types of distracted driving. Police reports, self-reports to insurance companies, and research studies on distracted driving using low or high-fidelity driving simulators or naturalistic driving provide measures of crash risk for various distractions. While the crash risk and odds ratios may differ from study to study, it is overwhelmingly clear that distracted driving of any type is risky. Distractions that require a combination of visual, manual, and cognitive resources are the most risky.
The effects of distracted driving on driver performance include the following:
- Increased time that eyes are off road
- Increased reaction time to hazards
- Increased braking reaction time
- Greater speed variability and slower mean speed
- Increased lane deviations and lane departures
- Closer car following
Human Factors Investigations of Distracted Driving
The role that distraction may have played in a vehicle crash is a complex issue that requires experts with specialized knowledge and expertise in the areas of human factors and accident reconstruction as well as technology and vehicle experts. Our experts use a combination of accident analysis techniques, knowledge of human behavior and performance, and experience investigating vehicle collisions to determine the relevant factors in a crash. In addition, our experts can often determine if a device was in use at the time of the collision even if there is testimony to the contrary.
For more information visit our Human Factors practice page.
Dr. Nancy Grugle is an expert in forensic human factors with experience in the area of driver performance and distracted driving. Dr. Grugle conducted research on distracted driving while an Assistant Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Cleveland State University. Dr. Grugle received competitive research grants from the National Science Foundation, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Cleveland State University Transportation Center and has been published in national and international peer-reviewed journals.