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Key Research on the Effects of Driving While Distracted

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Key Research on the Effects of Driving While Distracted

Ministry of Transportation

To drive safely, motorists need to be focused on the task of driving and avoid distractions.

Recent studies show that cell phones can be a major source of distraction for many drivers.

  • Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (2009) examined a driver's risk of being involved in a "safety critical event" (a crash or near-crash) when using hand-held device.  Researchers compared the performance of passenger car drivers and drivers of heavier vehicles such as transport trucks.  Key findings included:

-        Dialing and texting is associated with the highest degree of risk of all cell-phone-related activities among car drivers -- increasing their risk of being in a safety critical event by 2.8 times than if they had been focused on the road.  Among truck drivers, dialing a cell phone resulted in a 5.9 times greater risk, and text messaging resulted in a 23.2-times greater risk.

-        Talking or listening had a lesser impact on car drivers, increasing a driver's risk by 1.3 times and had no impact on truck drivers.

-        Reaching for a hand-held electronic device increases crash or near-crash risk among both types of drivers, increasing the risk by 1.4 times among car drivers and 6.7 times among truck drivers.

  • Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre (1997) studied 699 Ontario drivers who used cell phones while driving, finding they were four times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who were not talking on cell phones.

  • Australian research (2005) confirmed these findings in a study that looked at the mobile phone records of a sample of drivers aged 17 years and older who had recently been involved in collisions.  The researchers concluded that cell phone use while driving increases four-fold the risk of involvement in an injury collision.

  • Dr. David L. Strayer and Dr. Frank A. Drews (2004) found that the performance of drivers in a driving simulator was influenced by cell phone conversations.  When using cell phones, the drivers: 

-        Reacted 18 per cent slower than when not using a cell phone

-        Took 17 per cent longer to recover the speed that was lost following braking.

A growing number of studies show these negative effects are even higher among novice drivers.

  • The Traffic injury Research Foundation (2007) found Canadians aged 16 to 24 were more likely than their older peers to have steered or braked to avoid a collision due to an in-car distraction.
  • An Insurance Bureau of Canada (2007) study found that drivers aged 21 and under with less than six months of driving experience had more collisions, drove at higher initial speeds and followed the car ahead more closely while talking on their cell phones than drivers with more than 10 years' driving experience.  While all participants decreased their visual scanning, experienced drivers slowed down while on their cell phone, but novice drivers did not. 
  • Ford Motor Company (2007) compared the performance of teens and adults while driving and using cell phones at the same time. Teen participants followed at unsafe distances, had poor vehicle control skills and were prone to distraction from hand-held phone-related tasks. In a simulator test, the rate at which adults failed to identify potentially dangerous events (such as a car quickly changing lanes in front of them) rose to 13 per cent more often, while this rate rose to 50 per cent for teens.

The study also found the number of rear-ends collisions among the cell phone-using drivers increased two-fold.

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