Why the Focus Should Be on “Engaged Driving” for Teens

March 30, 2014
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While working with other auto safety researchers over the past year as part of a distracted driving panel organized by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM) and State Farm®, I have been introduced to the term “engaged driving” and prefer it to the term “distracted driving.” I think it better describes what we want drivers to do to be safe.

There always has, and always will be, sources of distraction to drivers in and outside the vehicle. The term “distracted driving” is relatively new in auto safety, and I suspect that most people think it refers to texting/ emailing/making calls from a phone while driving. But distracted driving is a complex issue that extends beyond a driver’s smartphone. The ultimate goal of any related intervention is to keep the driver engaged in driving-related tasks, despite a number of potential sources of distraction. Experts on our panel examined the topic from many angles in order to better understand the broader issue of driver engagement and to inform efforts to develop interventions that encourage engaged driving by experienced adult and novice teen drivers.Research into how young drivers make decisions about how often and under what circumstances they’re likely to “disengage” from the driving task will help us understand how best to motivate teens to remain fully engaged and prevent crashing, especially in higher risk situations.

Remaining fully engaged with driving is particularly important for teens for a couple of reasons:

  • Because of their inexperience behind the wheel, teens are not as capable of evaluating when a driving situation might not need their full attention for a brief period of time.
  • It’s likely that teens are motivated differently than adults. Due to this fact, we can’t simply take what works best to motivate adults to help teens remain engaged while driving.

We will need some well-designed studies of teens aimed at understanding how often and under what circumstances they “disengage” their attention from driving. Then we can develop ways to most effectively motivate or incentivize teens to remain engaged throughout their drives. One of the challenges of developing strategies to address “distracted driving” that are based on the source of distraction, such as banning cell phone use, is that the sources just keep evolving and likely faster than related countermeasures can keep pace. This is not to say that policies like cell phone bans shouldn’t be implemented; it just means that they’re never going to be enough.

The extensive research review our panel conducted as part of the State Farm Engaged Driving Initiative will be published tomorrow in a special issue of the AAAM journal, The Annals of Advances in Automotive Medicine. Drawing on our collective knowledge, key findings and recommendations were identified in these papers. We will also be discussing our research tomorrow at the Engaged Driving Symposium in Washington, DC. To join in the discussion as part of the live webcast (from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT), click here.