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Eby presents research on technology and distracted driving

October 18, 2009

Text messaging while driving and manually dialing a cell phone are among the riskiest forms of driver distraction. These behaviors have been related to increased crash risk, according to UMTRI Research Scientist David W. Eby, but they're not the only culprits.

When it comes to technology, using an iPod, manipulating a DVD player, or programming a navigational device while driving can also cause problems. "Any technology that engages a driver's attention can be distracting," says Eby.

Eby made his comments during a recent summit on distracted driving, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The summit brought together experts from around the nation to discuss ways to combat distracted driving and its consequences.

During a panel session focusing on technology, Eby noted that distracted driving is becoming an increasingly important societal issue because of four primary factors.

First, the use of technology in vehicles is increasing. According to Eby, cell phone use by drivers has doubled between the years of 2000 and 2005. He noted that while research on the distracting effects of some technologies is still unclear, there is good evidence that use of cell phones of any type increase crash risk by a factor of four to nine.

Second, roadways are becoming more congested, making the task of driving more difficult.

The third factor, Eby noted, is that young drivers, who often have fewer years of driving experience, are the biggest users of "nomadic devices" or technologies that are brought into a vehicle, such as cell phones and iPods.

Finally, the U.S. population is aging, with age-related medical conditions potentially exacerbating the distracting effects of technology.

But while some technologies can cause distraction, other technologies can mitigate distraction.

Eby highlighted several technological advancements currently in development. These include vehicle systems that can help manage distractions by monitoring "driver workload" and blocking incoming cellular calls at critical moments.

Eby also mentioned development of crash warning systems that can help mitigate the outcomes of distraction. He noted current efforts to integrate these systems via the ongoing Integrated Vehicle Based Safety System (IVBSS) project led by UMTRI and partners, sponsored by USDOT.

To read Eby's presentation, visit the M-CASTL website.

To see video of the summit presentations, see distracted driving summit.