IBC, University of Calgary launch driver-distraction study on cell-phone use among new drivers

CALGARY, April 22 – Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) today announced its sponsorship of groundbreaking research on the distractions that affect novice drivers. IBC and researchers at the University of Calgary will conduct the comprehensive study to determine the effects of cell-phone use on the driving behaviour of novice drivers.

At a news conference held today at the University of Calgary, Jim Rivait, IBC’s vice-president, Prairies, NWT and Nunavut, described the research as unprecedented.

“Other studies have looked at cell phones as a driver distraction, but this project is the first to focus on novice drivers,” says Rivait.

“We already know that Alberta drivers aged 16 to 24 use cell phones more than any other age group. They are also more likely than older, more experienced drivers to be involved in collisions that result in death,” says Rivait. “We expect this study to provide more information on the extent to which novice drivers are distracted by cell-phone use and whether governments should consider changes to graduated licensing in response,” Rivait adds.

Graduated licensing programs were introduced to ensure novice drivers acquire their driving skills in a protected environment. Since 1992, IBC has worked to improve the safety of drivers by promoting graduated licensing.

“There are many challenges involved with being a new driver, and that is why the Government of Alberta introduced a very strong Graduated Driver Licensing Program in May, 2003,” said Dr. Lyle Oberg, Minister of Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. “When new drivers use a cell phone, it provides additional challenges. This research project will provide additional insight into how we can most effectively deal with this traffic safety issue.”

The new study, which includes a total of 80 participants, will be conducted in two phases — a simulator phase and an on-road phase. The simulator phase will be conducted at the University of Calgary by Associate Professor Jeff Caird, Director of the Cognitive Ergonomics Research Laboratory and the University of Calgary Driving Simulator (UCDS). The on-road phase will be conducted on Calgary streets by Dr. Alison Smiley, president of Human Factors North, an ergonomics consulting firm specializing in on-road experiments.

Each phase will compare the performance of 20 novice drivers (up to 21 years old with less than 60 hours of driving experience) to a group of 20 much more experienced drivers (at least 500,000 kilometres of driving experience). In both phases, participants will carry out several phone-related tasks, including dialing and answering the phone, while also managing traffic situations. The phone calls will require varying degrees of cognitive attention. Researchers will measure the reaction times, eye movements and vehicle control of the participants.

The on-road component was included with the simulator component to address concerns that driver behaviour in a simulator is without consequences and, therefore, is not representative of on-road driver behaviour.

“Learning to drive requires a person to do many things at once — steering, braking, shifting gears and watching for traffic,” says Professor Caird. “When a novice driver adds a distraction like talking on a cellular phone, a task that in itself requires variable levels of cognitive effort, the results can be disastrous.”

The study is expected to begin in May and conclude in August 2005.

For more information, visit the Insurance Bureau of Canada.