In recent observational studies, between 17% and 33 % of drivers were shown to perform a secondary task while driving.
These findings are alarming, because it is estimated that almost 84% of road deaths are related to driver distraction. In response to this problem, some vehicle systems—either integrated or brought on board—are now hands-free (operated by voice command) or are even marketed as “eyes free” by the automobile industry.
We must continue our efforts to educate drivers about the dangers of distractions at the wheel.
Our study clearly shows that, despite the fact that drivers adjust their driving habits when performing a secondary task—such as by reducing speed—, these actions are not sufficient to ensure road safety. They still take their eyes off the road too often, and for too long. It can be clearly seen that the use of so-called “eyes free” systems always includes a strong visual component causing the driver to take his or her eyes off the road.
We must continue our efforts to educate drivers about the dangers of distractions at the wheel and maintain our research efforts in order to better understand the implications of human-technology interactions when driving. Driving-related technologies should not be seen as a pipe dream, but as an opportunity to improve road safety, when they are thoughtfully designed and implemented and used properly by drivers.
Martin Lavallière, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Deposit of the research report: September 2015