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Posted on 07-16-2018

car crashes while driving

This article is an excerpt from NHTSA study. 

FOLLOWING-VEHICLE DRIVER DISTRACTION To what extent were “following” drivers distracted and thus did not see the lead vehicle braking? What was the focus of visual attention of the “following” driver (e.g., mirror, inside object, passenger, etc.)? 

Driver distraction is believed to be a factor in a substantial percentage of collisions. Research suggests that somewhere between 10 to 50 percent of collisions may be distraction-related (NHTSA, 1997; Stutts et al., 2001). This analysis examines the role of distraction in rear-end crashes, near-crashes, and incidents for 100-Car Study drivers. Analyses are limited to rear-end events (crashes, near-crashes, and incidents) in which the instrumented vehicle struck or had a conflict with the lead vehicle (e.g., conflicts with a lead vehicle); these situations represent about 88 percent of the observed rear-end conflict events. Of the 6,177 rear-end conflicts with a lead vehicle, 26 percent involved a distracted driver. 

As shown in Figure 8, although driver distraction appears to be an important factor across all types of rear-end conflicts, its contribution to crashes is significant. Approximately 87 percent of rear-end crashes in which the driver struck the lead vehicle included some form or degree of driver distraction, which is much higher than the rates of distraction observed for near-crashes and incidents (refer to Table 8). Moreover, 47 percent of crash-involved drivers were observed to have no discernable crash-avoidance response (e.g., braking, steering, etc.), suggesting that drivers were not aware of the evolving and imminent crash situation because they were not paying attention or were distracted.

Drivers were found to be engaged in a variety of secondary tasks during the onset of the rear-end event – some related to the driving task itself. Over 60 specific activities were defined across 11 activity categories. Figure 9 illustrates the rate of involvement across different distraction tasks for crashes, near-crashes, and incidents. Although no single set of activities universally accounted for the majority of distraction events, driving-related inattention (e.g., checking mirrors, looking out windows, etc.), and to a lesser degree internal distraction (e.g., reaching for an object, pet in vehicle, etc.), accounted for a substantial percentage of distraction across crashes, near-crashes and incidents.

 These two activities alone were present in 39 percent of distraction-related crashes, 41 percent of near-crashes, and 22 percent of incidents. In general, the observed rate of involvement in distraction tasks varied based on the level of severity of the event. For example, use of wireless devices (e.g., cell phone) had a substantial impact on the frequency of near-crashes and incidents, but not crashes. No crash-involved drivers were observed to be using a wireless device at the time of the event, while over 22 percent of near crashes and 31 percent of incidents involved a driver who was using a wireless device. Conversing on a cell phone (e.g., talking/listening) far outpaced any other cell-phone related tasks including dialing, answering, or searching for the cell phone. 



Drivers are routinely engaged in activities while driving that divert their attention from the forward roadway. Executing driving-related activities themselves (e.g., scanning the mirrors) appear to be a significant and common source of driver distraction. 

Different patterns of distraction inducing activities emerged for crashes, near-crashes and incidents. Dining and daydreaming were strongly associated with crashes. Use of wireless devices (and cells phones in particular) contributed to near-crashes and incidents, as did passenger-related distraction. 

  • Cell phone use, and in particular conversing (talking/listening) on a cell phone while driving, was among the top distraction-causing activities contributing to near-crashes and incidents. 
  • Cognitive distraction appears to be a common underlying theme; this category could include cell-phone conversation, looked but did not see, and daydreaming. 
  • These analyses do not take into account the relative rate of exposure – just the raw counts. 
  • Driver gazes to the forward roadway (front windshield) do not guarantee that drivers are attentive and processing relevant cues. Approximately 40 percent of crash-involved drivers had their gaze directed out the front windshield at the time of lead-vehicle braking onset. However, once the lead-vehicle brake lamps were visible, crash-involved drivers proceeded to look away from the forward view for longer periods of time than incidentand near-crash-involved drivers. This makes a strong argument that additional salient cues may be needed to alert drivers to the onset of lead-vehicle braking events. 
  • In cases where the driver’s eyes were off the forward view at the time the lead-vehicle brake lamps came on, there is evidence from previous studies that certain lamp types might have drawn the driver’s eyes forward more quickly.

Reference: DOT HS 810 846 Analyses of Rear-End Crashes and Near-Crashes in the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study to Support Rear-Signaling Countermeasure Development

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