External-To-Vehicle Driver Distraction (Research Findings No. 168/2003)

  • Published: Human factors Analysts Ltd, for the Scottish Executive, 2003
  • Authors: B. Wallace
  • Date Added: 07 Feb 2013
  • Last Update: 07 Feb 2013
  • Format: pdf

Objectives:

The Scottish Executive commissioned a literature review on driver distraction to explore in more depth whether external driver distraction is a significant factor in road RTIs and to examine existing knowledge and gaps on the relevant external factors that cause vehicle RTIs, with a view to identifying where further research might be carried out.

Methodology:

The research was carried out by Human Factors Analysts Ltd. (HFAL) a ‘spin-out’ company from the University of Strathclyde, between December 2002 and March 2003. It consisted of a literature review of all relevant material relating to external-to-driver distraction published since 1945 in English. However, it was necessary to also obtain literature relating to general theories of driver distraction and general studies of driver distraction, to provide a contextual background.

Key Findings:

  • Information from RTI databases suggests that external-to-vehicle driver distraction is a major contributory factor to road RTIs. However it is likely that these incidents are under-reported. The real risks may therefore be greater than official statistics suggest.

  • The evidence suggests that there are two specific situations where the risk factor of billboards and signs is at its highest: at junctions, and on long monotonous roads (such as motorways).

  • Overall the literature review found that advertising/billboards can function as distractors in specific situations. However, more research is needed to discover in what particular situations they pose most of a threat, and the precise extent of the risk.

  • The general conclusion is that between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of all RTIs have driver distraction as a contributory factor, and that, of these, roughly a third are specifically caused by external-to-vehicle driver distraction. Young (aged17-21) drivers are particularly prone to external-to-vehicle driver distraction. It is, however, thought that these figures are an underestimate.

  • External distraction is thought to be caused by one of two factors: visual ‘clutter’ (occurring mainly at junctions); and ‘low arousal’ during monotonous situations when the driver is ‘surprised’ by a billboard or sign and fixates on it after a long period of driving.

  • Most research into external driver distraction originates in the USA or Australia. It is recommended that further research is carried out in the UK.

Themes:

Distraction, RTIs, safety, signs, advertising signs, clutter.

Comments:

Robust government summary document. However, signs only form part of the analysis. Slightly dated.

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