On-road study of willingness to engage in distracting tasks

  • Published: National Highways Traffic Safety Administration, 2005
  • Authors: N. Lerner and S. Boyd
  • Date Added: 08 Feb 2013
  • Last Update: 08 Feb 2013
  • Format: pdf


To ascertain drivers’ willingness to participate in various potentially distracting tasks, including use of navigation devices.

To establish what drivers actually do when driving and to understand how drivers influence risk by choosing where and when to engage in potentially distracting tasks.


Participants self-reported via questionnaire, and took part in an assessed on-road trial in which they drove a set route and an instructor verbally described a task and asked how willing the participant would be to engage in it at that particular time and how risky that behaviour would be. The participants did not actually engage in the task.

Key Findings:

  • Key points relating to interaction with telematics devices include:
    • Subjects’ rating of willingness to engage in a particular task at a particular time and their rating of risk at that particular time were very highly correlated.

    • People were more willing to use mobile phones while driving than to use navigation systems, and more willing to use navigation systems than PDAs.

    • When engaging in tasks drivers are sensitive to attention demand, in particular visual attention.

    • Risk and willingness to engage in tasks appear more strongly linked to driving style and attitudes to multi-tasking than to particular driving scenarios.


Distraction, telematics, task engagement, task risk


The study focussed largely on mobile phone use as the predominant in-car technology. The age of this task meant that over half of the participants were unfamiliar with navigation system technology in general, which may have caused them to categorise associated tasks as more risky. Nevertheless, this appears to be a unique study in that it considers driver willingness to engage and relationships with perceived risk.