Performing Secondary Tasks Ups Crash, Near-Crash Risk

Increased risk for new drivers with secondary tasks, including dialing cell phone, texting, eating

FRIDAY, Jan. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The performance of secondary tasks while driving is associated with increased risk of crashes and near-crashes, especially among novice drivers, according to a study published in the Jan. 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Sheila G. Klauer, Ph.D., from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, and colleagues conducted two studies to examine the correlation between performance of secondary tasks and the risk of crashes and near-crashes. Accelerometers, cameras, global positioning systems, and other sensors were installed in the vehicles of 42 newly-licensed drivers (aged 16.3 to 17.0 years) and 109 more experienced drivers to facilitate objective assessment.

The researchers identified 167 crashes and near-crashes among novice drivers and 518 crashes and near-crashes among experienced drivers. Among novice drivers, the risk of a crash or near-crash was significantly increased with dialing a cell phone (odds ratio [OR], 8.32), reaching for a cell phone (OR, 7.05), sending or receiving text messages (OR, 3.87), reaching for an object other than a cell phone (OR, 8.00), looking at a roadside object (OR, 3.90), or eating (OR, 2.99). Dialing a cellphone correlated with a significantly increased crash or near-crash risk among experienced drivers (OR, 2.49); the risk associated with texting or accessing the Internet was not evaluated. Among novice, but not experienced drivers, the prevalence of high-risk attention to secondary tasks increased over time.

"Our findings indicate that secondary tasks requiring drivers to look away from the road ahead, such as dialing and texting, are significant risk factors for crashes and near-crashes, particularly among novice drivers," the authors write.

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