Drivers do the strangest things when they’re behind the wheel, but how many of those activities actually cause accidents? Dr. Sheila Klauer, a senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and her research team examined driver behavior to find the answer to this question.
The researchers, sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looked at the daily driving habits of more than 240 study participants in and around Washington, D.C. The drivers’ vehicles contained five digital video cameras and a “black box” that registered following distance, lateral acceleration, speed, forward acceleration, braking and other data.
After viewing videos of 82 collisions, 761 near-crashes and 8,000-plus incidents in which the study participants were involved, researchers identified four specific behaviors that increase the odds of having a crash:
· Speeding-The researchers defined speeding as driving faster than prevailing traffic or driving at a speed “inappropriate” for conditions.
Speeding nearly tripled the crash odds.
· Driving while drowsy-Drowsy drivers were defined as those who stare fixedly through partially closed eyes. The chief characteristic of this type of driver is lack of eye movement. Most drowsy-driving episodes occurred during broad daylight. This behavior also tripled the crash odds.
· Becoming distracted while driving-The distractions that caused accidents required drivers to look away from the road for two seconds or more. They included such activities as applying make-up, dialing a cell phone, searching for a CD or reading behind the wheel. This kind of behavior doubled the crash odds, and the increased crash risk shows how quickly and unexpectedly traffic conditions can change. Even when the driver maintained a safe following distance, this didn’t prevent distraction-related accidents. For example, many of the rear-end crashes in the study occurred while a driver was keeping a greater-than-two-second headway behind the car in front.
· Aggressive driving-Researchers defined aggressive driving as using a vehicle to menace another driver or pedestrian. This included behaviors such speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, running stop signs, tailgating and frequent lane changes. Oftentimes the driver exhibited a combination of these activities. Aggressive driving doubled the risk of a crash.
The researchers’ work has a number of potential applications. For example, the risky behaviors can be studied independently to determine how they contribute to crashes when associated with particular types of drivers, and videos and black-box readings can be used to develop collision-avoidance systems. But most importantly, for each and every driver on the road, this research shows just how important it is to stay alert and keep your eyes on the road at all times.