Distracted Driving: So What’s the Big Picture?

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By Robyn Robertson, President and CEO, Traffic Injury Research Foundation

May, 2011 – In the past five years distracted driving has garnered growing media attention and rapidly emerged as one of the most high-profile, talked-about issues in road safety today. In fact, Webster’s Dictionary named “distracted driving” as its word of the year in 2009 (Webster’s 2009). Governments, industry, safety advocates, researchers and the public have all weighed in on the issue and what needs to be done to address it. This has resulted in an unprecedented level of national and global commitment, legislation, and policy – all designed with the intention of making roads safer. Education and enforcement activities, however, have been much less pronounced.

A major reason for the fractionated efforts to address the issue is that the big picture is often neglected. Like most road safety issues, distracted driving is transdisciplinary in nature and therefore complex both to understand and to solve. Indeed, solutions to mitigate distracted driving have not been well-evaluated so our knowledge of what works is severely limited.

The high level of complexity and diversity of available information in mainstream media does little to inform decision-makers about concrete and viable strategies to manage the issue. To put the issue into proper perspective, this article shares insight into many different facets of distracted driving that draws upon existing research, policy documents, and activities in North America.

What is distracted driving?

While a number of definitions exist (Tasca 2005), one of the most widely accepted in Canada is acknowledged in the proceedings from an international conference on distracted driving co-hosted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation and the Canadian Automobile Association in 2005. It states:

“Distraction involves a diversion of attention from driving, because the driver is temporarily focused on an object, person, task, or event not related to driving, which reduces the driver’s awareness, decision-making, and/or performance, leading to an increased risk of corrective actions, near-crashes or crashes”(Hedlund 2006, p.2). This definition incorporates three important aspects of the problem – the source, the effects, and the consequences.

Read the full pdf report – 15 pages – here.

About TIRF

Established in 1964, TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. As a national, independent, charitable road safety institute, TIRF designs, promotes, and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services for the public. Visit us online at www.tirf.ca.