Driver distraction by smartphone use (WhatsApp) in different age groups

Ortiz, C.; Ortiz-Peregrina, S.; Castro, J. J.; Casares-Lopez, M.; Salas, C.

VL / 117 - BP / 239 - EP / 249
This paper investigates the effect that texting with WhatsApp, one of the most common applications for instant messaging, exerts on driving performance. Because distracted driving also affects older drivers, who can have seriously compromised vision, we also analysed the associations between visual-function parameters and driving performance. A total of 75 drivers, experienced in sending WhatsApp messages (>= 10WhatsApp messages/week), participated in this study and were divided into four age categories. Visual-function tests included contrast sensitivity with and without glare, retinal straylight and objective assessment of optical quality. Simulated driving performance was assessed under a baseline driving condition (without distraction) as well as a texting condition (WhatsApp messages) while driving. The participants used their own mobile phone. Lastly, objective results of driving performance were compared with subjective self-report data from the Driver Behaviour Questionnaire (DBQ). The analysis indicated that functional changes occurring with age, such as a lower contrast sensitivity and greater retinal straylight, were correlated with a higher number of collisions, longer distances driven outside the lane, and greater standard deviation of lateral position (SDLP). The results showed a significant main effect of age for the driving-performance parameters. Also, compared to the baseline, texting WhatsApp messages while driving worsens driving performance for all age groups, most notably among older participants. Thus, the older drivers' SDLP was similar to 14% higher than that for the baseline average of all the other drivers and rose to 29% under distraction, reflecting the impact of secondary tasks. The negative effect of the use of the smartphone during driving was also reflected in the number of collisions, with a greater risk of accidents in all the groups of drivers (by 8.3% for young adults, 25.0% for adults, 80.5% for middle-aged adults, and 134.5% for older drivers). Lastly, participants' subjective responses indicated that younger drivers (18-24 years) had a higher risk of deliberately violating safe driving practices (p < 0.05). The present study demonstrates that texting WhatsApp messages while driving significantly impairs the ability to drive safely, with older drivers being the group most adversely affected. It would be recommendable to include other nonstandard vision tests, which have shown associations with driving performance, in the examination for driver licensing. This would help raise the awareness of older drivers concerning their visual limitations, permitting them to adopt compensatory measures to improve their driving safety. Nevertheless, it is also necessary to raise awareness among the younger drivers of the risks involved in behaviour behind the wheel.

Access level

Green published