Drivers Engaged in Other Tasks About 10 Percent of the Time

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Drivers eat, reach for the phone, text, or otherwise take their eyes off the road about 10 percent of the time they are behind the wheel, according to a study using video technology and in-vehicle sensors.

Boy texting and driving

Risks of distracted driving were greatest for newly licensed teen drivers, who were substantially more likely than adults to be involved in a crash or near miss while texting or engaging in tasks secondary to driving, according to the researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Virginia Tech.

Study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, Ed.D., M.P.H., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute where the study was conducted, said:

Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road can be dangerous. But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven’t developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.

The study of drivers in the Washington, D.C., area and in southwestern Virginia appears in the Jan. 2 New England Journal of Medicine. Experienced adults were more than twice as likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing a cell phone as when they did not dial and drive, but did not have an increased risk while engaging in other tasks secondary to driving. However, the researchers found that distracted driving substantially increased the risks for new drivers. Compared to when they were not involved in secondary tasks, novice teen drivers were:

  • eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
  • seven to eight times more likely when reaching for a phone or other object,
  • almost four times more likely when texting, and
  • three times more likely when eating.

Talking on a cell phone did not increase risk among the adult or teenage drivers. However, because talking on a cell phone is preceded by reaching for the phone and answering or dialing — which increase risk greatly — the study authors concluded that their results provide support for licensing programs that restrict electronic device use, particularly among novice drivers. They also stressed the need for education about the danger of distracted driving.

Source: NIH News


  1. Klauer et al. 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.
About the Author

NIH Newsbot keeps you up-to-date with the latest research news from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).