Road distractions are significant risk factors for motor vehicle crashes

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1. Increased number of motor vehicle crashes and near-crashes among novice drivers were associated with secondary task performance while driving compared to experienced drivers.

2. In experienced drivers, only dialing on a cell phone was associated with increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)

Study Rundown: Distracted driving due to performance of secondary tasks such as talking on a cell phone or eating has been previously associated with decreased driver performance. To date, the majority studies have been performed in simulated driving environments or relied on self-reported data. The authors of this study analyzed real-life, continuous data with video to compare the prevalence of engagement in secondary tasks and the associated risk of crash among novice (<3 weeks of obtaining license) and experienced drivers. The results of this study demonstrated that motor vehicle crash or near-crash were more likely associated with performance of a secondary task in novice drivers. These tasks included dialing a cell phone, eating, texting, reaching for an object inside the vehicle, and looking at a roadside.

Among experienced drivers, only dialing on a cellphone was associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.  There was no significant difference in the frequency of performance of secondary tasks within the two groups. The study showed that performance of secondary tasks, specifically those which require the driver to look away from the road, was associated with increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, particularly among novice drivers. The study was limited by potential sampling bias; the study was conducted in an area of high traffic density and may not be generalizable to all areas.

Click to read the study in NEJM

Relevant Reading: Texting While Driving and Other Risky Motor Vehicle Behaviors Among US High School Students

In-Depth [retrospective cohort]: This study analyzed data collected from participants from the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving and Naturalistic Teenage Driving Study. Within these studies, participants’ vehicles were equipped with vehicle monitoring device and video camera. Analysts reviewed footage of crash or near crashes and coded for the presence of secondary tasks. Overall, data from 42 novice drivers and 109 experienced drivers were analyzed. Novice drivers were defined as drivers who obtained their drivers license for 3 weeks or less. The mean length of time that experienced drivers had been driving is 20 +/- 14.4 years. Secondary tasks associated with vehicle crashes for novice drivers include texting on cell phone (OR 3.87, 95%CI: 1.62-9.25), dialing on cell phone (OR: 8.32, 95%CI: 2.83-24.42), reaching for object in vehicle (OR: 8.00 95%CI: 0.67-17.50), looking at  roadside object (OR: 3.90, 95%CI:1.72-8.81), and eating (OR:2.99, 95%CI: 1.30-6.91). For experience drivers, only dialing a cell phone (OR: 2.49, 95%CI: 1.38-4.54) was associated with motor vehicle crashes.

By David Wang and Andrew Bishara

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