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Eye Tracking: Evaluating Teen Driver Distractions

Eye Tracking: Evaluating Teen Driver DistractionsThere are some pretty startling statistics regarding vehicle crashes involving teenage drivers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers age 16-19 are four times more likely to crash than older drivers.

There are several factors that make this age group more at risk to cause or be involved in a vehicle accident; not only are they less experienced on the road, they tend to be more distracted by secondary, non-driving related tasks. A study conducted at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University entitled “Examining the Effect of Driving Experience on Teenage Driving Ability with Secondary Tasks” used eye tracking to investigate if driver experience was related to the percentage of driving-related eye glances compared to non-driving-related ones.

While driving on a test track in a vehicle equipped with data collection instruments, 42 teenage drivers and their parents completed an array of secondary tasks including texting on a cell phone, selecting songs on an iPod, and calling a highway assistance service.

In addition to monitoring vehicle speed, ability to maintain a lane, and distance from the vehicle in front of them, eye glance patterns were recorded using a camera mounted within the car and angled toward the driver’s face. The percentage of time spent engaged in driving-related glances was measured, with driving-related glances defined as anytime the driver looked at the forward roadway or any of the mirrors (rearview, left side, right side).

The results of the test supported the hypothesis that additional years of driving experience would result in a higher percentage of driving-related glances while driving and performing secondary tasks. Although the difference was only 2%, the study considers this a significant result. It suggests the reason more experienced drivers are able to keep their eyes on the road is because they have more attentional control, allowing them to concentrate on the driving task itself even while engaging in secondary tasks. Experienced drivers also appeared to place a higher importance on the driving task itself while the teenage drivers attached slightly more importance to the secondary task.

Both groups were found to increase the percentage of driving-related glances when a vehicle was in front of them while they were performing a complex secondary task (such as texting on a cell phone). This suggests that an increased crash risk causes drivers to compensate for the complexity of the secondary task by keeping their eyes on the forward roadway more frequently.

Despite this effort, driving performance is still compromised by the cognitive requirements of the secondary task. What this means is that whether you just got your license or have been driving for 50 years, it is not safe to multitask while driving.

Examining the Effect of Driving Experience on Teenage Driving Ability with Secondary Tasks