Assessing the Effects of Driving Inattention on Relative Crash Risk

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Virginia Tech


While driver distraction has been extensively studied in laboratory and empirical field studies, the prevalence of driver distraction on our nation's highways and the relative crash risk is unknown. It has recently become technologically feasible to conduct unobtrusive large-scale naturalistic driving studies as the costs and size of computer equipment and sensor technology have both dramatically decreased.

A large-scale naturalistic driving study was conducted using 100 instrumented vehicles (80 privately-owned and 20 leased vehicles). This data collection effort was conducted in the Washington DC metropolitan area on a variety of urban, suburban, and rural roadways over a span of 12-13 months. Five channels of video and kinematic data were collected on 69 crashes and 761 near-crashes during the course of this data collection effort.

The analyses conducted here are the first to establish direct relationships between driving inattention and crash and near-crash involvement. Relative crash risk was calculated using both crash and near-crash data as well as normal, baseline driving data, for various sources of inattention. Additional analyses investigated the environmental conditions drivers choose to engage in secondary tasks or drive fatigued, assessed whether questionnaire data were indicative of an individual's propensity to engage in inattentive driving, and examined the impact of driver's eyes off the forward roadway.

The results indicated that driving inattention was a contributing factor in 78% of all crashes and 65% of all near-crashes. Odds ratio calculations indicated that fatigued drivers have a 4 times higher crash risk than alert drivers. Drivers engaging in visually and/or manually complex tasks are at 7 times higher crash risk than alert drivers. There are specific environmental conditions in which engaging in secondary tasks or driving fatigued is deemed to be more dangerous, including intersections, wet roadways, undivided highways, curved roadways, and driving at dusk. Short, brief glances away from the forward roadway for the purpose of scanning the roadway environment (e.g., mirrors and blind spots) are safe and decrease crash risk, whereas such glances that total more than 2 seconds away from the forward roadway are dangerous and increase crash risk by 2 times over that of more typical driving.



naturalistic driving, driver fatigue, distracted driving, critical incident analysis, crash risk