Assessing the Impact of Smartphone Usage While Driving in Work Zones
Advances in technology coupled with lower ownership costs have increased the number of adults who own and use smartphones. According to a Pew Research Center report titled “Technology Device Ownership: 2016,” the ownership of smartphones has doubled in the last few years. In 2016, 77 percent of adults in the United States owned a smartphone compared to 35 percent of adults in 2011. The increase in smartphone ownership may have negative impacts on road safety. In addition to the traditional sources of distraction, such as eating or drinking and adjusting the radio, drivers are also distracted by using their smartphones. In recent years, the use of mobile phones has evolved from talking and texting to other applications such as looking at GPS location maps, looking at pictures in social media, and playing interactive games.
The increase of smartphone usage by drivers is particularly concerning in work zones when operations and maintenance (O/M) activities are being performed. O/M activities, specifically moving operations such as pavement testing, pavement marking, painting, shoulder work, mowing, signage repair and replacement, guardrail work, etc. put vehicle users and O/M workers at an increased risk of injuries and fatalities due to errors that lead to accidents caused by distracted drivers. The main objective of this research is to investigate the impact of using smartphone applications in drivers’ errors and reaction time to avoid accidents when O/M workers are present.
Based on a literature review, we believe that the risk of errors while using smartphones varies by age. Hancock et al. (2003) concluded that older drivers had a slower reaction time when distracted than younger drivers and that they make up the time by breaking harder, which increases the risk of accidents. The literature review suggests that older adults face unique barriers and challenges when it comes to smartphone usage while driving which influences their reaction time to prevent accidents. These barriers include physical challenges, such as health issues, and cognitive challenges, such as difficulty learning new technologies (PEW, 2014). Young drivers also face unique barriers due to lack of driving experience. It is hypothesized that older drivers (> 60 years old) and younger drivers (16-19 years old) are more susceptible to making errors that lead to accidents while using smartphones than drivers in the 20 to 40 and 40 to 60 year old age groups. It is also hypothesized that older drivers who are using their smartphones have a reaction time to prevent accidents that is significantly slower than other age groups.
This research will contribute to the understanding about the impact of smartphone usage while driving on errors that lead to accidents and increase the reaction time of distracted drivers. The ultimate goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of loss events (property damage, personal injury, and fatality) in work zones.