Examining driver distraction in the context of driving speed: An observational study using disruptive technology and naturalistic data.
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Considering the number of people who have been involved in crashes associated with driver distractions, it is important to understand the characteristics of distracted driving on public roadways. While experiments have indicated that driver distractions are associated with slower driving speeds, the methodologies tend to have limited external validity. Observational studies are often conducted under limited circumstances - be it time or location. Therefore, in order to better understand the nature of driver distractions, the authors investigated the relationships between driving speed, posted speed limits, and phone handling frequency through naturalistic driving data obtained (via disruptive technology) from 8,240 mobile application users on state-maintained highways throughout Texas. As a measure of manual distractions, a phone handling rate (PHR; times/hours driven) was calculated based on phone rotations. Within-subject comparisons were drawn for driving speed and posted speed limits under normal driving conditions and distracted conditions. The analysis revealed a strong negative correlation between PHR and driving speed (rs = -0.87). Paired t-tests revealed significantly lower driving speeds (p = 0.000 < 0.01, d = -0.48, = 0.69) and posted speed limits (p = 0.000 < 0.01, d = -0.20, = 0.42) during phone handling events when compared to driving without phone handling. On average, users drove 3.26 mph slower in distracted conditions than in undistracted conditions. Driving speed had a larger effect size than posted speed limits. The findings were in line with existing theories and experiments as well as other observational studies conducted at fixed locations. Although this research did not reveal causal relations, it is noteworthy that speed reduction with manual distractions was observed under real road conditions. Spatial analyses are recommended to conduct in order to paint a more thorough picture of speed reduction, its relationship to space, and crash risks related to distracted driving.