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An exploration of the role of driver distraction in serious road crashes.
Little is known about the real-world effect of distractions on driving. We conducted a case-control study in Perth, Western Australia to examine the role of self reported driver distraction in serious road crashes resulting in hospital attendance. Method: Cases were drivers aged 17 years or over who had been involved in a crash and presented to an emergency department. Controls were drivers aged 17 years or over who had not had a crash immediately prior to interview. Four control drivers were matched to each case by crash location and time of day and day of week of the crash. Structured interviews were conducted and the data were analysed to describe the prevalence and types of distracting factors reported by drivers involved in crashes and to assess the role of driver distraction in serious road crashes, the latter using a conditional logistic regression model which adjusted for gender, age group, driving routine and weather. Results: A total of 1370 participants were enrolled in the study (274 cases and 1096 controls; 1:4 matching). One in seven cases (14%) reported that a distraction had contributed to the crash that resulted in hospital attendance. The types of distractions reported included passenger distractions, internal cognitive distractions, in-vehicle manual distractions and outside distractions. Drivers distinguished between a ‘distracting factor’ and ‘being distracted’. After adjusting for confounders, being distracted while driving increased the odds of having a serious crash by more than 2 ½ times (OR=2.8, 95% CI 1.5-5.1, p=0.001). Conclusion: Driver distraction can lead to serious consequences such as crashes resulting in injury to the driver. Further work is required to identify the types of distracting factors that pose the greatest risk. However, based on driver descriptions, the road environment, the driving task and driver characteristics may mitigate the risk associated with driver distraction and these factors should be considered when assessing the issue.