The effects of age on crash risk associated with driver distraction

Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Feb 1;46(1):258-265. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw234.


Background: Driver distraction is a major contributing factor to crashes, which are the leading cause of death for the US population under 35 years of age. The prevalence of secondary-task engagement and its impacts on distraction and crashes may vary substantially by driver age.

Methods: Driving performance and behaviour data were collected continuously using multiple cameras and sensors in situ for 3542 participant drivers recruited for up to 3 years for the Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study. Secondary-task engagement at the onset of crashes and during normal driving segments was identified from videos. A case-cohort approach was used to estimate the crash odds ratios associated with, and the prevalence of, secondary tasks for four age groups: 16-20, 21-29, 30-64 and 65-98 years of age. Only severe crashes (property damage and higher severity) were included in the analysis.

Results: Secondary-task-induced distraction posed a consistently higher threat for drivers younger than 30 and above 65 when compared with middle-aged drivers, although senior drivers engaged in secondary tasks much less frequently than their younger counterparts. Secondary tasks with high visual-manual demand (e.g. visual-manual tasks performed on cell phones) affected drivers of all ages. Certain secondary tasks, such as operation of in-vehicle devices and talking/singing, increased the risk for only certain age groups.

Conclusions: Teenaged, young adult drivers and senior drivers are more adversely impacted by secondary-task engagement than middle-aged drivers. Visual-manual distractions impact drivers of all ages, whereas cognitive distraction may have a larger impact on young drivers.

Keywords: SHRP2 Naturalistic Driving Study; case–cohort; distraction; driver behaviour; traffic crash risk.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data
  • Cohort Studies
  • Distracted Driving / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult