1. Study suggests risk of distracted driving predicted by age, gender, personality and driving frequency

    November 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    New research identifies age, gender, personality and how often people drive as potential risk factors for becoming distracted while driving. Young men, extroverted or neurotic people, and people who drive more often were more likely to report being distracted, while older women and those who felt that they could control their distracted behavior were less likely to report distraction. Published today in Frontiers in Psychology, this is the first study of how personal traits affect driver distraction. The study also proposes future directions for interventions to reduce distracted driving.

    The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 million people are killed in road traffic accidents each year. Driver distractions, including answering the phone or fiddling with the radio, are a factor in many accidents. The risk of being involved in an accident increases dramatically after just two seconds of distraction — so understanding and reducing driver distraction will help to save lives.

    Predicting and explaining distracted behavior is difficult, as people often don’t intend to reduce their focus on driving, and may feel they have little control over it. Researchers have not previously examined the link between someone’s attitudes and intentions regarding distracted driving and how often they are distracted during driving. In addition, the link between distracted driving and gender, age and personality, is not completely understood.

    Ole Johansson, a researcher at the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway, investigated these issues by surveying a large group of Norwegian high-school students and a group of Norwegian adults. The surveys covered a variety of topics, including the frequency and type of distractions the participants experience during driving, their attitudes and intentions around driver distractions, and their personalities.

    The surveys revealed that overall rates of driver distraction were low and that fiddling with the radio was the most common distractor. However, some of the most prominent predictors of distraction were age and gender.

    “I found that young men were among the most likely to report distraction,” says Johansson. “Others more prone to distraction include those who drive often, and those with neurotic and extroverted personalities.”

    People who felt that distracted driving was more socially acceptable, or that it was largely beyond their control, were also more likely to report distracted driving. However, older women and those who felt that they could control their distractive behavior were less likely to report distraction.

    The study also examined the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce distracted driving. Participants chose plans to reduce their distractive behavior by matching “if” statements such as “if I am tempted to drive faster than the speed limit while on the highway” with “then” statements such as “then I will remind myself that it is dangerous and illegal to do so.” A control group was provided with information about driving distractions, but made no plans. A follow-up survey two weeks later measured driver distraction in the two groups.

    Both the intervention group and the control group showed a similar decline in distracted driving, meaning that the intervention itself was not effective. Simply being exposed to material about distracted driving and completing the survey may have been enough for the participants to become more aware of their distractions.

    Johansson believes one key to successful future interventions lies in allowing the participants to devise their own plans, rather than choosing from a list, so that they are more engaged. Interventions could also focus on the needs of high-risk groups.

    “Tailored interventions to reduce driver distraction could focus on at-risk groups, such as young males with bad attitudes to distracted driving and a low belief that they can control their distraction,” he concludes.


  2. Study suggests infotainment features are too distracting for drivers

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release:

    Many of the infotainment features in most 2017 vehicles are so distracting they should not be enabled while a vehicle is in motion, according to a new study by University of Utah researchers.

    The study, led by psychology professor David L. Strayer, found In-Vehicle Information Systems take drivers’ attention off the road for too long to be safe.

    “This is troublesome because motorists may assume that features that are enabled when they are driving are safe and easy to use,” Strayer said. “Greater consideration should be given to what interactions should be available to the driver when the vehicle is in motion rather than to what features and functions could be available to motorists.

    “With the best intentions, we will put some technology in the car that we think will make the car safer, but people being people will use that technology in ways that we don’t anticipate,” he added.

    The U researchers conducted the study for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Other authors of the report are Joel M. Cooper, research associate professor; research associates Rachel M. Goethe, Madeleine M. McCarty and Douglas Getty; and Francesco Biondi, research assistant professor.

    The study reviewed infotainment systems in 30 different 2017 vehicles. Participants were required to engage in four types of tasks using voice, touch screen and other interactive technologies. The tasks were to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation while driving.

    The team developed an advanced rating scale to measure which tasks were most distracting, how they affect visual, cognitive and manual demands on drivers and whether interactions were easier to perform in some vehicles than others. The scale ranged from low to very high demand; low demand is equivalent to listening to the radio, while very high demand is equivalent to balance a checkbook in your head while driving, according to AAA.

    The researchers found drivers using features such as voice-based and touch-screen technology took their hands, eyes and mind off the road for more than 24 seconds to complete tasks.

    Previous research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds.

    In the new study, programming navigation was the most distracting task — taking drivers on average 40 seconds to complete. Text messaging was the second most distracting task; audio entertainment and calling and dialing were the easiest to perform and did not significantly differ in overall demand.

    The researchers also found surprisingly large differences between vehicles as far as workload required to operate the systems.

    “We’re putting more and more technology in the car that just does not mix with driving,” Strayer said. “We’re expecting to see more problems associated with distracted driving as more stuff is at the fingertips of the driver to distract them.”

    AAA said it hoped the new research would help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and the workload they require of drivers, which it said should not exceed a low-level of demand.

    Strayer said his team hopes the research also will be used by consumers “to help make a good decision about what vehicle and what technology in the vehicle is best for them.”


  3. Study suggests driving speed is affected by driver’s mind wandering

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the North Carolina State University press release:

    Research from North Carolina State University finds that driving speed fluctuates more when a driver’s mind wanders from focusing on the act of driving — and that the outside environment influences how often a driver’s mind wanders.

    “As autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies take over some driving tasks, drivers are likely to experience increased boredom because they will have less to do, which makes it important to understand what contributes to ‘mind wandering’ for drivers, and how that affects driver performance,” says Michal Geden, a Ph.D. candidate at NC State and the lead author of a paper on the work. Mind wandering is thinking about anything other than driving.

    “This study tells us that mind wandering affects how variable the driving speed is when people drive, which has safety implications,” Geden says. “It also tells us that perceptual load affects mind wandering.”

    Perceptual load refers to the amount of information in the environment that the driver needs to process. For example, driving in a sparsely-populated desert environment offers a lower perceptual load than driving in a busy, urban area.

    For this study, researchers conducted an experiment with 40 drivers using a driving simulator. During low perceptual load conditions, drivers reported that their minds were wandering 50 percent of the time. But during high perceptual load conditions, drivers reported mind wandering only 41 percent of the time.

    And during times that drivers reported mind wandering, the researchers saw increased variability in driving speed.

    “There is a great deal of research on external distractions, such as talking on your phone while driving,” says Jing Feng, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and corresponding author of the paper. “However, not much work has been done on allowing one’s mind to wander while driving. As technologies take over more driving tasks, we may become more likely to let our minds wander. We should know what that might mean for vehicle safety, and this study is one step in that direction.”


  4. Study suggests drivers find it harder to ignore a ringing phone than to ignore the risk

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Drivers find it difficult to ignore a ringing phone but they do ignore the dangers, with a new QUT study revealing almost 50 per cent believe locating and answering a ringing phone is not as risky as talking and texting.

    The research undertaken by QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q) and published in the PLOS ONE journal has found locating a ringing phone, checking who is calling, and rejecting or answering the call, is the most frequent mobile phone task undertaken by drivers.

    Lead researcher Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios said drivers did not believe that locating and answering a ringing phone was as risky as talking, texting or browsing.

    “The study of 484 Queensland drivers found 45 per cent admit to locating and answering a ringing phone, compared to 28 per cent who reported speaking on a handheld device.

    “Also concerning is that more drivers reported looking at a screen for more than 2 seconds or locating and answering a ringing phone, than they did talking on a handheld phone, texting or browsing.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said when considering the risk of these different mobile phone tasks, most drivers underestimated the distracting dangers of passive phone use.

    Finding and reaching for a ringing phone is perceived by drivers as having a mid-range crash risk, however research has showed that this task is one of the most risky activities a driver can engage in,” he said.

    “This is because drivers are likely to adapt their driving behaviour when talking, texting and browsing, by reducing their speed, increasing their distance from the vehicle in front and scanning their environment more frequently.

    “On the other hand, a ringing mobile phone can occur at any time without giving time for the driver to adapt their behaviour and therefore increases the likelihood of a crash. “This mismatch in perception of risk is a major concern revealed by the study.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said using a mobile phone while driving had been shown to increase crash risk four-fold.

    “Novice drivers are particularly at risk as they are more likely to drive while using a mobile phone.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said other findings in the study included:

    • Despite the research, 12 per cent drivers still don’t believe talking on a handheld phone is dangerous
    • Drivers actively avoid police detection, with about 70 per cent admitting to being on the lookout for police when using their phone
    • Drivers keep their phones low and cover them to evade police detection
    • On a typical day, drivers are more likely to look at their mobile phone for more than 2 seconds, than they are to text or browse

  5. Study suggests mind wandering is common during driving

    September 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers in the United States have investigated mind wandering in volunteers during a driving simulation. When prompted at random during the simulation, the volunteers reported mind wandering 70% of the time. Using electrophysiological measurements, the researchers could identify specific changes in brain patterns when the volunteers were mind wandering.

    Are you always attentive when driving? How about on the monotonous commute home after a long day’s work? It can be difficult to keep our attention sharp while driving, especially on routes that we drive daily, or when we are tired after work. However, driver inattention is a major factor in road traffic crashes and fatalities. The most obvious sources of driver distraction are external, such as phones or other mobile devices, and scientists have extensively studied the role of these distractions in road accidents.

    However, many traffic accidents occur without any obvious external distractions. Mind wandering is an understudied form of distraction, where drivers start daydreaming and shift their attention from driving to internal thoughts. To stay safe, drivers need to remain aware of other road users and respond rapidly to unexpected events, and mind wandering might reduce their ability to do so. Because drivers may not be explicitly aware that their mind is wandering, it can be difficult to quantify it.

    In a recent study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, American scientists investigated how frequent mind wandering is during a driving simulation, and whether they could find tell-tale changes in brain patterns for a wandering mind.

    The researchers asked a group of volunteers to use a driving simulator, while hooked up to an electrophysiological monitoring system, to measure electrical activity in their brains. For five days in a row, the volunteers completed two 20-minute driving simulations along a monotonous stretch of straight highway at a constant speed, to mimic a commute to and from work. Between the two “commutes,” they completed a written test to simulate the mentally draining effect of a day’s work.

    Throughout the experiment, the volunteers heard a buzzer at random intervals, and every time the buzzer sounded they used a tablet computer to indicate if their mind had been wandering right before they heard the buzzer, and if so, if they had been explicitly aware of their mind wandering or not.

    “We found that during simulated driving, people’s minds wander a lot — some upwards of 70% of the time,” says Carryl Baldwin, of George Mason University, who was involved in the study. Participants’ minds were more likely to wander on the second drive of the simulation (the drive home after work), and on average, they were aware of their mind wandering only 65% of the time.

    The scientists could also directly detect mind wandering from the volunteers’ brain activity. “We were able to detect periods of mind wandering through distinctive electrophysiological brain patterns, some of which indicated that the drivers were likely less receptive to external stimuli,” says Baldwin.

    So, what does this mean? Is mind wandering dangerous, and if so, can we stop doing it? “Mind wandering may be an essential part of human existence and unavoidable. It may be a way to restore the mind after a long day at the office,” says Baldwin. “What we are not sure about yet, is how dangerous it is during driving. We need additional research to figure this out,” she explains. “In terms of improving safety in the future, one option could be autonomous transport systems, like self-driving cars, that allow people’s minds to wander when it is safe to do so, but re-engage when they need to pay attention.”


  6. Study suggests following a friend may lead to unsafe driving behavior

    July 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology provides scientific proof to show that drivers who follow another car to a destination are more likely to drive dangerously.

    “We have found that when someone is asked to follow another vehicle, it can lead to them engaging in risky driving behavior, such as driving faster, making more erratic turns and following too close to the car in front. This is most likely caused by a fear of getting lost,” says Robert Gray, a Professor in Human Systems Engineering, who carried out this research with his team at the Arizona State University, USA.

    He continues, “This study was actually inspired by an accident analysis I was doing for a court case, where a driver was seriously injured in a ‘following a friend’ scenario. Although most people have an intuition it can be dangerous, we couldn’t find any research to back this up.”

    Professor Gray and his colleagues decided to test this intuition by recruiting students with a valid driving licence to participate in a driving simulation. Initially, they were asked to drive wherever they wanted in the simulated city to get an idea of their basic driving behaviour. This was compared to how they drove when guided by a navigation system and also to their driving behaviour when asked to ‘follow your friend in the car in front’. As well assessing their general speed, distance to the car in front and the time it took to move lanes; hazards were presented to see if their behaviour changed under different driving scenarios.

    “We observed changes in behaviour that increased the likelihood of being involved in an accident,” reveals Professor Gray.

    When drivers were ‘following a friend’, they drove faster and more erratically, closer to the car in front and made quicker lane changes, compared to how they drove under normal conditions or with a guided navigation system. In addition, when confronted with hazards in the ‘following a friend’ simulation, the drivers were more likely to cut in front of a pedestrian crossing a road and speed through traffic lights turning red.

    “It is important to note that in our simulation, the leader and other vehicles around them did not break any laws, so the follower was not just copying the risky driving behavior they saw from someone else,” says Professor Gray.

    By using a computerized driving simulation, the study was able to eliminate the contagious effect, where driver behaviour can be influenced by the traffic around them. Drivers often feel a social pressure to keep pace with other traffic and run traffic lights when other vehicles do the same.

    Professor Gray concludes by offering some advice when a friend offers to show you the way. “If you are faced with this situation, get the address from the lead driver and use a map or navigation device so you know how to get there yourself. In the future, we plan to investigate whether some knowledge about the location of the destination can get rid of these dangerous effects.”


  7. ‘Sixth sense’ protects drivers except when texting

    May 24, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Houston media release:

    driving frustrationWhile much has been made about the dangers of texting and driving, less attention has been focused on the age-old distractions of being absent minded or upset while driving. A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) focused on all three of these important factors.

    Led by Ioannis Pavlidis from UH and Robert Wunderlich of TTI, the research studied how drivers behave when they are absent minded, emotionally charged or engaged in texting. The work was funded, in part, by the Toyota Class Action Settlement Safety Research and Education Program.

    The study looked at 59 volunteers who were asked to drive the same segment of highway four times — under ‘normal conditions’ of being focused on driving, while distracted with cognitively challenging questions, while distracted with emotionally charged questions and while preoccupied with texting trivialities. To avoid bias, the order of the drives was randomized.

    In all three interventions — absent minded, emotional and texting — the researchers found that the drivers’ handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving. This jittery handling resulted in significant lane deviations and unsafe driving only in the case of texting distractions. In the case of absent-minded and emotionally charged distractions, jittery steering resulted in straighter trajectories with respect to a normal drive and safer driving.

    A likely explanation for this paradox is the function performed by a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC,” Pavlidis said. “ACC is known to automatically intervene as an error corrector when there is conflict. In this case, the conflict comes from the cognitive, emotional and sensorimotor, or texting, stressors. This raises the levels of physiological stress, funneling ‘fight or flight’ energy to the driver’s arms, resulting in jittery handling of the steering wheel.”

    What happens when the brain’s ACC automatically intervenes, Pavlidis said, is that it counterbalances any strong jitter to the left with an instant equally strong jitter to the right and vice versa. The end effect of this forceful action is nullification of any veering to the left or the right of the lane and, thus, very straight driving.

    For ACC to perform this corrective function, it needs support from the driver’s eye-hand coordination loop. If this loop breaks, which it does when the driver texts, then ACC fails and the jittery handling of the steering wheel is left unchecked, resulting in a significant lane deviation and possible accident.

    The driver’s mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course,” Pavlidis said. “What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto systems that work wonders, until they break.”

    Pavlidis and Wunderlich think the scientific and manufacturing community can benefit from their team’s study. They posit that the question of what happens when self-driving cars experience failures needs to be asked now rather than later. Case in point, their research uncovers the mechanism that makes moderate cognitive and emotional distractions relatively safe, but only as long as the driver’s natural tendency to handle multiple tasks is not overwhelmed.

    “Following up on the results of our science study, we are currently looking into the development of a car system to monitor outward driving behaviors, such as steering jitter or lane deviation, as well as the internal state of the driver that causes them,” Pavlidis said. “This system, which I call ‘stressalyzer,’ a play on the word breathalyzer, may serve not only as a ‘black box’ in car accidents, but also as a driver alert and prevention mechanism, since it will continuously sense a driver drifting to distracted mode.”


  8. New research: Nine laws particularly effective in reducing underage drinking fatalities

    April 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the NORC at the University of Chicago media release:

    alcohol bottlesNew research reveals that nine laws designed to reduce underage drinking have been instrumental in saving more than 1,100 lives each year in the states that have adopted them, and that an additional 210 lives could be saved annually if they were adopted in every state.

    While all 50 states have adopted a core minimum legal drinking age of 21, a large number of states have adopted expanded underage drinking laws. Those additional laws were the focus of research done by a team at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) in Calverton, Maryland, and which will be published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

    Of the 20 expanded underage drinking laws that were identified, nine were found to be particularly effective in reducing the number of fatal crashes involving underage drinking drivers.

    The authors examined each law’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of coverage, sanctions for violations, exceptions, and ease of enforcement. Results showed wide variability in the strength of each underage drinking law and in the number of states that have adopted them. “We were surprised to find that half of the states have adopted 13 or fewer laws, that only five can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and that just one state, Utah, has adopted all 20,” said lead author James Fell, now a principal research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. Fell said their particular interest was in the nine laws that made a significant difference in the number of fatal crashes.

    The nine minimum legal drinking age laws associated with significant decreases in fatal crash ratios of underage drinking drivers were: possession of alcohol (-7.7%), purchase of alcohol (-4.2%), use alcohol and lose your license ( 7.9%), zero tolerance .02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for underage drivers (-2.9%), age of bartender ?21 ( 4.1%), state responsible beverage service program (-3.8%), fake identification support provisions for retailers (-11.9%), dram shop liability (-2.5%), and social host civil liability ( 1.7%).

    The nine laws are estimated to be currently saving approximately 1,135 lives annually. The researchers estimate that if all states adopted them, an additional 210 lives could be saved each year.


  9. Driving curfews may curb teen crime

    March 29, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Dallas media release:

    teens friends boysA new UT Dallas study found that teen driving curfews might do more than reduce car accidents. They also may prevent teens from committing crimes.

    Arrests among teens ages 16-17 fell by as much as 6 percent in states with laws that restrict nighttime driving hours for teens, according to the study.

    The research by Dr. Monica Deza, assistant professor of economics in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, and co-author Daniel Litwok of the firm Abt Associates, was published online by the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

    Most states’ graduated driver licensing programs have nighttime restrictions. The programs typically include supervised learning and intermediate stages before young drivers receive full-privileged licenses. They have proven successful at reducing risky behaviors that cause accidents. The new study is one of the first to examine the programs’ potential impact on crime.

    “Being able to drive or having friends who can drive is the difference between going out and staying home on a Saturday night,” Deza said. “It seemed intuitive to us that having a curfew on driving hours affected the probability that teenagers would get themselves into trouble.”

    Deza and Litwok, senior analyst and economist at Abt Associates in Maryland, analyzed the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report arrest data from 1995 to 2011. They compared arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds to arrests of young adults ages 18 and older in states with the nighttime driving curfew for new drivers.

    Overall, arrests of the younger teens decreased by 4 to 6 percent. The reduction was even higher in the states with the strictest laws. In those states, arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds declined 5 to 8 percent.

    The biggest crime reductions occurred in states that had graduated license programs in place the longest. The types of crimes most affected were manslaughter, murder and larceny. Arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds dropped 11 percent for manslaughter or murder, 5 percent for larceny, and 4 percent for aggravated assault.

    Driving restrictions keep teens off the roads, lessen the influence of peers and change teen behavior, which may have contributed to the reduction in arrests, Deza said.

    The researchers found that the laws were most effective when gasoline prices were at their lowest, when teens were likely to drive the most. The restrictions prevented those teen drivers from taking full advantage of the affordable gas prices, according to researchers.

    “As policymakers become concerned with how low gasoline prices affect risky behaviors among teens, they may want to take into account the role of graduated driving licensing in keeping teenagers off the streets, even in periods in which the cost of driving is particularly low,” Deza said.

    Deza said that analyses of the costs and benefits of graduated driving license programs should include the policy’s impact on crime. She said that previous analyses may have underestimated graduated licensing programs’ benefit by not factoring in crime.

    Deza and Litwok initially conducted separate studies. The authors combined their research after yielding identical results. Litwok received support from Abt Associates and an Institute of Education and Sciences Grant for his research.