Distracted driving and risk of road crashes among novice and experienced drivers

N Engl J Med. 2014 Jan 2;370(1):54-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa1204142.


Background: Distracted driving attributable to the performance of secondary tasks is a major cause of motor vehicle crashes both among teenagers who are novice drivers and among adults who are experienced drivers.

Methods: We conducted two studies on the relationship between the performance of secondary tasks, including cell-phone use, and the risk of crashes and near-crashes. To facilitate objective assessment, accelerometers, cameras, global positioning systems, and other sensors were installed in the vehicles of 42 newly licensed drivers (16.3 to 17.0 years of age) and 109 adults with more driving experience.

Results: During the study periods, 167 crashes and near-crashes among novice drivers and 518 crashes and near-crashes among experienced drivers were identified. The risk of a crash or near-crash among novice drivers increased significantly if they were dialing a cell phone (odds ratio, 8.32; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.83 to 24.42), reaching for a cell phone (odds ratio, 7.05; 95% CI, 2.64 to 18.83), sending or receiving text messages (odds ratio, 3.87; 95% CI, 1.62 to 9.25), reaching for an object other than a cell phone (odds ratio, 8.00; 95% CI, 3.67 to 17.50), looking at a roadside object (odds ratio, 3.90; 95% CI, 1.72 to 8.81), or eating (odds ratio, 2.99; 95% CI, 1.30 to 6.91). Among experienced drivers, dialing a cell phone was associated with a significantly increased risk of a crash or near-crash (odds ratio, 2.49; 95% CI, 1.38 to 4.54); the risk associated with texting or accessing the Internet was not assessed in this population. The prevalence of high-risk attention to secondary tasks increased over time among novice drivers but not among experienced drivers.

Conclusions: The risk of a crash or near-crash among novice drivers increased with the performance of many secondary tasks, including texting and dialing cell phones. (Funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Automobile Driving* / psychology
  • Automobile Driving* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cell Phone*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Risk
  • Text Messaging
  • United States