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The impact of driver distraction on road safety: results from a representative survey in two Australian states
  1. S P McEvoy1,2,
  2. M R Stevenson1,
  3. M Woodward1
  1. 1The George Institute for International Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2Formerly, Injury Research Centre, School of Population Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S P McEvoy
 The George Institute for International Health, PO Box M201, Sydney, NSW 2050 Australia; smcevoy{at}


Objective: To quantify the prevalence and effects of distracting activities while driving.

Design: Cross sectional driver survey.

Setting: New South Wales and Western Australia, Australia.

Participants: 1347 licensed drivers aged between 18 and 65 years. Data were weighted to reflect the corresponding driving population.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of distracting activities while driving; perceived risks and adverse outcomes due to distractions.

Results: The most common distracting activities during the most recent driving trip were lack of concentration (weighted percentage (standard error, SE) 71.8% (1.4%) of drivers); adjusting in-vehicle equipment (68.7% (1.5%)); outside people, objects or events (57.8% (1.6%)); and talking to passengers (39.8% (1.6%)). On average, a driver engaged in a distracting activity once every six minutes. One in five crashes (21%) during the last three years, involving one in 20 drivers (5.0% (0.7%)), was attributed to driver distraction based on self-report. In the population under study, this equated to 242,188 (SE 34,417) drivers. Younger drivers (18–30 years) were significantly more likely to report distracting activities, to perceive distracting activities as less dangerous, and to have crashed as a result.

Conclusions: Distracting activities while driving are common and can result in driving errors. Driver distraction is an important cause of crashes. Further research is needed to estimate the risk conferred by different distracting activities and the circumstances during which activities pose greatest risk. These results suggest that a strategy to minimize distracting activities while driving, with a focus on young drivers, is indicated.

  • BAC, blood alcohol concentration
  • DPI, Department of Planning and Infrastructure (Western Australia)
  • IQR, interquartile range
  • NSW, New South Wales
  • Pop est, Population estimate
  • RTA, Roads and Traffic Authority (New South Wales)
  • UWA, The University of Western Australia
  • WA, Western Australia
  • driver distraction
  • risk behaviour
  • cross sectional survey
  • traffic crash
  • motor vehicles

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  • Funding: The study was funded by the Motor Accidents Authority of New South Wales. Dr McEvoy received a National Health and Medical Research Council postgraduate public health scholarship.

  • Competing interests: none.