Proponents of driverless vehicle technology have argued that such technology could be much safer than human drivers, who are often distracted while on the road. A new study is now back in up this assertion, showing just how inattentive most drivers really are.
The study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, has found that on average drivers are distracted or have their eyes off the road around 10% of the time they are driving. Distractions found in the study include phone calls, texting, and food.
Researchers used in-vehicle sensors and cameras to capture study participants while they were driving. Drivers were observed while driving their vehicles for over one year.
“Our data support the current trend in implementing restrictions on texting and cell phone use in vehicles,” said Bruce Simons-Morton, co-author of the study and a researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “As new forms of technology increasingly are available in cars, it’s important that drivers don’t feel compelled to answer every incoming call or text. For young drivers’ safety, parents can model this habit when they are at the wheel, and also let their children know that they should wait until the vehicle is stopped before taking a call—even when it’s from mom or dad.”
The study found that new teen drivers are "substantially" more likely to be involved in an accident while driving distracted. New, young drivers are eight times more likely to be in an accident while dialing a phone number, and reaching for objects is nearly that dangerous. Teens are also four times as likely to crash when texting.
"Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road can be dangerous,” said Simons-Morton. “But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven’t developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.”
Though it does appear that drivers become better at choosing what moments to devote to distractions with age, it also seems that most still haven't gotten the hang of dialing a phone number while driving. The study's authors say that "experienced" adult drivers are still more than twice as likely to be involved in an accident when dialing a phone number while driving.