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The Naturalistic Study of Distracted Driving: Moving from Research to Practice

Journal Article
ISSN: 1946-391X, e-ISSN: 1946-3928
Published September 13, 2011 by SAE International in United States
The Naturalistic Study of Distracted Driving: Moving from Research to Practice
Citation: Hanowski, R., "The Naturalistic Study of Distracted Driving: Moving from Research to Practice," SAE Int. J. Commer. Veh. 4(1):286-319, 2011,
Language: English


2011 - 56th L. Ray Buckendale Lecture
Driver distraction has become an important topic in society and the research community. A telltale sign of how driver distraction has impacted society is evidenced by the designation of the term "distracted driving" as Webster's New World® College Dictionary 2009 Word of the Year. Since the release of a key study directed at commercial vehicle drivers, there have been two U.S. Department of Transportation summits to address the topic, in addition to legislation banning texting-while-driving in commercial motor vehicles. Given that "driver distraction" is a construct without a consensus definition, many studies on driver distraction have focused on its fundamental and theoretical underpinning, which is a critical first step in understanding the phenomenon. However, few studies have been conducted to elicit information that can directly be applied to addressing the driver distraction problem through system design, education, or policy recommendations.
The concept of Research-to-Practice (r2p) was first introduced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as an approach to transfer knowledge gained from research into effective practices. Fundamentally, the r2p philosophy is the antithesis of "research for research's sake" by focusing on the pragmatic application of research; that is, research for the purpose of impacting change. Despite the attention that driver distraction has garnered, there have been few studies in this domain that clearly fit the r2p model.
This paper highlights two naturalistic driving studies that fit the r2p paradigm and provide data that have informed driver education, shaped U.S. national transportation policy, and are relevant to system design aimed at reducing driver distraction. It was noteworthy that some of the findings from these naturalistic studies are inconsistent with previous research; thus, this paper provides insight into the potential reasons for these discrepancies. In addition, the paper outlines a hierarchical model of research approaches that can facilitate the pragmatic application of research findings.