The Role of Mobile Phones in Real World Motor Vehicle Crashes

The Role of Mobile Phones in Real World Motor Vehicle Crashes

Suzanne P. McEvoy (South Metropolitan Population Health Unit, Western Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch108


Early on, road epidemiological studies (Redelmeier & Tibshirani, 1997; McEvoy et al., 2005) indicated an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, including injury crashes, associated with mobile phone use. However, these studies were unable to assess the relative risks pertaining to specific phone tasks (for example, conversing versus texting). Moreover, direct comparisons of risk between different types of driver distractions, while possible (McEvoy, Stevenson, Woodward, 2007), were difficult to undertake. Naturalistic driving studies using instrumented cars in every day driving have provided more details of the tasks that confer particular risk in relation to phone use and other driver distractions (Klauer et al., 2014; Olson et al., 2009; Klauer et al., 2006; Dingus et al., 2006). Interest generated in these studies has prompted current trials using similar methodologies elsewhere, for example, Australia (Regan et al., 2013). To date, phone tasks involving handling of the phone and/or multiple or prolonged eye glances away from the forward roadway (dialling, reaching for the phone and text messaging) have been shown to significantly increase the risk of crashes and near crashes.
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In this article, on road epidemiological studies including naturalistic driving studies that have assessed the role of mobile phones in crashes and near crashes will be reviewed, for example, Redelmeier & Tibshirani (1997); McEvoy, Stevenson, McCartt, et al. (2005); Klauer, Dingus, Neale, et al. (2006); Klauer, Guo, Simons-Morton, et al. (2014). The article will summarise the types of on-road studies that have been used to assess the risks of mobile phone use while driving, explain results to date, explore what aspects of the phone task appear to be most risky, and compare this with other common forms of driver distraction including passengers.

Driver distraction has been defined as the diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving toward a competing activity (Lee, Young, & Regan, 2009, p. 34). In recent years, driver distraction has emerged as an increasingly important contributor to motor vehicle crashes. Road safety efforts have started to focus on sources of driver distraction, including mobile phone use while driving.

Today’s mobile phones feature a range of functions that make them highly useful devices, however under certain settings, it is possible that these same features may cause unintended consequences. Mobile phone use may divert driver attention from the driving task in a number of ways including reaching for the phone, dialling, engaging in conversation, hanging up, sending and receiving text messages, accessing the internet and phone apps, reading maps and emails, and interacting with music functions.

For some years now, researchers have been investigating the distracting effects of mobile phones while driving. These studies have included laboratory testing under simulated driving conditions, testing driving performance on off road circuits, study designs using case-control or case-crossover techniques to examine the association between mobile phone use and crashes and, most recently, naturalistic driving studies in which drivers are filmed during their day-to-day driving to assess the role of distractions in near crash and crash events.

It is possible for driver distraction to affect driving performance in a number of ways: speed variability, following distance (or headway), lane keeping, reaction time and gap acceptance (Young, Regan, Lee, 2009, Ch 7). However, these measures do not tell us the degree to which road safety may be compromised due to degraded driving performance. Accordingly, epidemiological studies have sought to determine the level of risk attributable to various driver distractions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Motor Vehicle: A wheeled vehicle that is propelled by an engine or motor and used on roads. It includes cars, buses, motorcycles and trucks.

Traffic Crash: A collision between motor vehicles or between a motor vehicle and an object, person, animal or non-motorised vehicle.

Naturalistic Driving Study: A study design which monitors driver behaviour in everyday driving using a Data Acquisition System (DAS).

Case-Crossover Study: Variant of the case-control study, in which cases act as their own controls.

Passenger: Any person being transported in a vehicle other than the driver.

Driver Distraction: Diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving toward a competing activity (Lee, Young, & Regan, 2009 AU46: The in-text citation "Lee, Young, & Regan, 2009" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , p. 34).

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