Distraction due to using technology

12 May 2022 The Human Factor

Although having a driver’s license and a car symbolize a degree of freedom for young people in particular, in many countries the car has lost its meaning as a status symbol among young people and been replaced by the smartphone. Those who can afford it even own several end devices, which serve their need to be an ever-available part of a new, digital community, but also lead to people driving around with a cell phone in their hand. The presence of passengers, conversations, listening to music, and taking part in activities within the vehicle also present other sources of distraction.

The results from a 2018 study conducted by Erez Kita and Gil Luria from the University of Haifa show that the young drivers who took part (17 to 22 years) touched their smartphone 1.71 times per minute while driving. With respect to using a cell phone while driving, several other cell phone functions that young people use in addition to writing text messages or calling have been identified. A 2018 online survey conducted in Australia found that the cell phone function most frequently used by young drivers (in this case 17 to 24 years) was playing music, followed by reading text messages, using GPS navigation apps, and sending text messages.
Results from a survey conducted among young German drivers also show that music-related activities (e.g., changing the music via their smartphone) are the most common reason for using a smartphone while driving. The participants surveyed were between the ages of 18 and 24 and drove at least 1,000 kilometers per year. Almost 65 percent of the participants admitted at least occasionally searching for music while driving. 62 percent of the young drivers admitted to reading text messages while driving, although the majority stated that they rarely did this. 46 percent admitted to reading or writing text messages at least sometimes while driving. Eleven percent of men and seven percent of women said they did this regularly. The results correspond to the results from another survey, in which 62.9 percent of young drivers in Europe aged 18 to 21 stated that they read text messages and e-mails or check social media while driving. Calling using a cell phone is less common among young drivers in Germany: 24 percent of men and 19 percent of women aged 18 to 24 admit to doing this sometimes while driving. A larger proportion (51 percent) state that they send voice messages.
Young drivers generally report being more fre- distraction from the road quently distracted while driving than other age groups. The levels of perceived social and personal acceptance of these forms of behavior are also higher in this group. These trends are consistent in Canada, the USA, and in Europe. The additional activities named by the young drivers surveyed in the studies are corroborated in the results of an analysis of driving data of teenagers in the USA. In 58 percent of the randomly selected and analyzed video segments, the young people performed at least one task other than driving. The most common additional activity was interacting with a passenger, which was observed in 33 percent of cases. The probability of performing a secondary task was more than twice as high when driving alone compared to when driving with a passenger.


Distraction while driving occurs when the driver’s attention is directed toward something other than the driving. Distractions can comprise visual, acoustic, manual, and/or cognitive elements. As a result, the type of distraction can impair a person’s driving in different ways. For example, several different studies show that young drivers (16 to 18 years) who drove with several people and had loud conversations with one another took their eyes off the road for longer than one second twice as often, and their risk of having a serious traffic accident was six times higher. Writing text messages increases the load on a person’s motor and cognitive functions (by holding a device and operating it), which leads to significantly longer glances away from the road, an increase in missed lane changing, and a considerably higher variation in lane position and the distance maintained to the vehicle in front. Visual distractions tend to be generally more pronounced than cognitive distractions. Further studies show that visual distractions result in poorer lane keeping, increased reaction times, and speed fluctuations.


The driving behavior impairments caused through distraction are concomitant with a higher accident risk. An analysis of the traffic accident trend for young drivers in the USA shows that, in 59 percent of the analyzed cases, the young drivers had been preoccupied with a secondary activity in the seconds before the accident. The most frequently observed distracting behaviors before an accident were interacting with passengers (14.6 percent), using a cell phone (11.9 percent), and performing an action inside the vehicle (10.7 percent). Over the period that was analyzed (2007 to 2015), rear-end collisions increased significantly. In accidents that involved the use of a cell phone, there was a shift from speaking/ hearing to operating/looking. Both the time for which drivers took their eyes off the road and the longest amount of time for which they did this increased in rear-end collisions for the analyzed period. Consequently, the change in the use of cell phones over recent years could be one of the reasons why young drivers are having more and more rear-end collisions.


The various secondary activities – and thus the associated risks – undertaken by young drivers vary. The results from an observation study conducted in the USA show that, from a large range of secondary activities, reaching for or using objects while driving and manually operating a cell phone are associated with a higher accident risk. Both actions combined increase the risk of having an accident sevenfold. Undertaking a secondary activity while driving correlates with an increase in the total length of time in which the driver takes their eyes off the road. For each additional second that a driver takes their eyes off the road, the risk of having an accident increases by 28 percent. The action of taking one’s eyes off the road is the aspect of teenagers’ manual use of a cell phone which is connected with their risk of being involved in an accident. 41 percent of the risk associated with using a smartphone can be traced back to drivers not concentrating on what is happening on the road. The remaining 59 percent is associated with the physical and cognitive strain from using a cell phone while driving.
The link between distraction and accident risk while driving has been corroborated in a further US study. It showed that drivers who had near accidents had a significantly lower frequency of performing secondary activities than drivers involved in accidents. It is possible that the absence of a secondary activity increased the chance of successfully performing an evasive maneuver. However, the differences between accidents and near accidents in terms of secondary tasks and evasive maneuvers were not as great as they were believed to be, and are not enough to explain what separates an accident from a near accident.