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127 Attention, distraction, and crashes: working memory and texting while driving predict crashes in young novice drivers
  1. Elizabeth A Walshe1,2,
  2. Flaura K Winston2,
  3. Daniel Romer1
  1. 1US Annenberg Public Policy Centre, University of Pennsylvania
  2. 2US Centre for Injury Research and Prevention, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Cell phone use while driving is associated with increased risk of vehicle crashes, especially among young drivers. However, the role of cell use apart from other risk factors that might endanger the young driver has not been demonstrated. Here we examine how executive function capacities as well as other risky driving behaviours and traits relate to crashes in young novice drivers. Young drivers (n=84; aged 18–20.6 years) were recruited from a longitudinal study of youth in Philadelphia that measured a range of executive functions (e.g., working memory), individual traits (e.g., impulsivity), and risky behaviours (e.g., substance use) at six waves across adolescence. Those who had obtained a license following the final wave completed a self-report driving survey that recorded history of crashes, cell use while driving, as well as other risky driving practices (e.g., ignoring speed limits). Twenty-five participants (30%) reported being in at least one crash as a driver. Correlations and logistic regression models examined the relationship between crash incidence and the various risk factors. Impulsivity, substance use, and other forms of executive function did not correlate with crashes. Although texting correlated with a factor of other risky driving behaviours, only texting, citations, and a composite score of working memory (WM) correlated with crashes (all r’s>0.232, all p’s<0.033). A stepwise regression model controlling for age, sex, IQ and number of years driving revealed that poorer WM (p=0.009) and texting while driving (p=0.039) significantly predicted an increased probability of crashes. Both stable attentional abilities (i.e., WM) and susceptibility to distraction (texting) were related to crash experience, where other risky behaviours and traits were not. WM was most diagnostic of crashes. Thus interventions should consider focusing on WM capacity as well as driving behaviours that reduce attention to the road.

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