A vehicle going 70 mph will travel about 200 feet – more than half the length of a football field – during a two-second glance away from the road. During National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety is reporting findings that a momentary distraction, such as checking your smartphone, impedes hazard anticipation and possibly increases the risk of a crash.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommendations suggest that in-vehicle glances be restricted to two seconds or fewer. However, Research Institute scientists found a period of readjustment occurs when a driver’s eyes return to the road, so that even glances as brief as two seconds can have a negative impact on safety.
Using the Research Institute’s driving simulator and eye-tracking equipment, the researchers monitored experienced drivers’ reactions and driving performance to both hazard and non-hazard driving scenarios. The study results indicated that drivers who experienced a two-second visual interruption demonstrated lower ability to react to potential hazards, such as a vehicle quickly pulling into traffic, than those who remained focused on the road ahead.
“We were especially interested in situations where drivers observed an emerging hazard prior to the visual interruption and whether they would remember to look for that hazard after the visual interruption,” said William Horrey, Ph.D., senior behavioral research scientist at the Research Institute. “The fact that drivers consistently missed critical information but were unaware of having missed it suggests that they would be likely to continue unsafe driving behaviors.”
Following the simulated driving task, participants completed a questionnaire designed to evaluate their perceived levels of performance. On average, the distracted drivers rated their performances high (70 percent out of a possible 100 percent). This finding suggests that drivers are typically not aware of the extent of the detrimental impact of performing non-driving tasks on their driving performance.
“It’s very important to get research like this out to the general public in order to promote greater awareness and provide motivation for the development of safe driver policies in both the private and public sectors,” said Peter Vandyne, technical director, Liberty Mutual Risk Control Services. “By increasing our understanding of the factors surrounding distraction we can identify ways to mitigate the risks and improve roadway safety.”
Source: Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety