Distracted driving and crash responsibility in fatal USA collisions 1991-2015
Master of Health Sciences
DisciplineHealth and Behavioural Sciences
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Distracted driving occurs when the driver engages in a secondary activity (e.g., cell phone use, eating) that affects the performance of the primary task of driving. Distracted driving has been associated with driver errors and increased crash risk. This study examined the association between driving distractions and risk of fatal crash responsibility. The first objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of distracted driving in fatal collisions (by sex and age) from 1991 – 2015. The second objective was to establish the most prevalent type of distraction during this time period. The third objective was to examine the association between distracted driving and crash responsibility in fatal crashes from 2010 – 2015. Driver distraction was first included in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database in 1991 as part of the unsafe driver action (UDA) variable. In 2010, driver distraction was revised and captured independently of the UDA variable. We computed proportion of drivers coded with at least one distraction by sex for each of the years (1991-2015; n = 86,656) and age by sex for this entire time period. We generated and compared frequencies for each distraction identified (e.g., cell-phone use; audio controls). To estimate the association between distracted driving and crash responsibility, drivers (aged 20 years or older, blood alcohol of zero, drug negative) of passenger type vehicles involved in a fatal USA crash between 2010 – 2015 (n = 27,241) were included in a case-control design. Having one or more unsafe driving action (UDA) was used as a proxy measure for crash responsibility. Cases had at least one UDA recorded; controls had no UDAs reported. We computed adjusted odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals of committing an UDA (distracted relative to non-distracted) for male and female drivers at several ages via logistic regression. Between 1991 and 2015, prevalence of distracted driving fluctuated between 6% (1995; male drivers) and 12% (2009; female drivers) depending on year and driver’s sex. While young drivers, especially males, had the greatest number of fatal crashes involving distraction; proportionally, the percentages were similar for males and females. This proportional difference was most pronounced for drivers aged 20-35 and 50-75. The most commonly identified distraction in fatal collisions from 1991 – 2015 was activity related to cell phones (e.g., talking, manipulating, or other cell phone related). Driving distracted increased the odds of crash responsibility (i.e., one or more UDAs), especially for middle-aged drivers (age 45 OR: 2.35; 95% CI: 2.06, 2.67). Despite educational campaigns, distracted driving continues to be a persistent factor in fatal crashes. It is likely the data presented here underestimates the prevalence of, and risk associated with distracted driving due to the difficulty in coding distraction post-crash. Given the role of distractions in fatal crashes, their prevention should continue to be addressed as a public health issue.