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7/1/2008 - Evaluation of Driver Distraction Using an Event Detection Paradigm

DEARBORN, Michigan - Researchers at Ford Motor Company completed a study on driver distraction in July 2002. The goal of this study was to quantify the effects of distraction caused by hands-free and hand-held phones. The effects of eight in-vehicle tasks on driver distraction were measured in a large moving-base driving simulator.

The drivers were asked to complete eight tasks. Hand-held and hands-free versions of phone-dialing, voicemail retrieval and incoming calls comprised six of the eight tasks. Manual radio tuning and climate control adjustment were also included to allow comparison with tasks that have traditionally been present in vehicles.

During the drive, the participants were asked to note severe lane violations made by other cars during simulated highway driving. These events could occur both in front of and behind the driver. The study measured the driver's ability to detect these sudden movements or events while completing the secondary tasks. Driving performance measures such as lane violations and heading error were also computed. The performance of the adult group was compared to the performance of the teenage drivers.

It is clear that hand-held voicemail retrieval and hand-held phone dialing presented significant levels of distraction to the adult drivers. In particular, the large lane violation rate for the hand-held voicemail task is alarming, and drivers who engage in this or similar tasks that require a large number of key presses on a hand-held phone would be well advised to stop their vehicles before proceeding.

Researchers also observed two different types of effects due to driver age. The first is that the teen drivers exhibit behaviors that may place them at higher risk even when no distraction is present. The teens choose small following distances and time headways (1.3 seconds) that leave little room for error. They also generate relatively high heading errors, indicating that they have not fully learned the basics of vehicle control.

The second effect on teen drivers is that distraction from the secondary tasks was more pronounced with this group. The lane violation rate for the hand-held voicemail task was 56% higher for teens than for adults (3.9 lane violations per hour for teens vs. 2.5 lane violations per hour for adults). The missed event rate for a front-lane violation during the hand-held dialing task was even more dramatic: 53.8% for the teens and 13.6% for adults.

The combination of poor judgment in following distance, poor vehicle control skills and more severe distraction seen in teen drivers is a serious cause for concern. Cell phones, pagers and other devices are popular among teens. The results of this study indicate that, at a minimum, driver education curricula should be revised to address the use of communication technology while driving. The use of hand-held phones by teens, in particular, should be strongly discouraged.

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