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Younger and Older Adults' Opinions on Driver Distractions and Potential Cellular Phone Laws.

Keywords Aging * Opinion * Driving * Cell phones

Cell phones have become a common accessory for most Americans. In fact, there are now an estimated 285.6 million cell phone users nationwide (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association 2010). However, nearly 60 % of cell phone users use their cell phones while driving (Royal 2003). Although there are a multitude of reasons behind traffic accidents, a growing number of researchers suggest that nearly one in four accidents are related to some kind of driver distraction including cell phone use (Young and Regan 2007). It has also been found that drivers under 30 years of age and older adults 65+ years of age are the two cohorts with the highest number of traffic accidents, and the data supports an inverted-u shape in the number of motor vehicle accidents by age group (U.S. Department of Transportation 2000a). This finding suggests that research to examine younger and older adults' opinions and attitudes about driver distractions and related laws should be conducted to better understand ways in which traffic accidents can be curtailed in these age groups. Related to this is the finding that in recent years, older adults have been more likely to embrace technology and to perceive the benefits that technology has for them in their daily activities (Mitzner et al. 2010). Thus, older adults may be increasingly better at recognizing what types of technology are beneficial to them while at the same time determining types of technology that are not as beneficial.

Past research on potential driving distractions has centered on text messaging, and in the USA, most states have implemented laws against this dangerous activity (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2008). However, not every state has laws against cellular phone use while driving, which may warrant further research to discourage its use with drivers. Further, much of the research on driver distractions has been largely composed of simulation studies with minimal survey data of driver opinions and attitudes. Additionally, only a few studies have examined the opinions of varying age groups. For instance, Nelson et al. (2009) surveyed undergraduates regarding why they would choose to talk or not to talk on a cell phone while driving. The main finding was that although these individuals believed talking and driving was dangerous, they choose to do so if they felt the call was important. Likewise, Atchley et al. (2011) found that younger drivers know that replying to texts and reading texts while driving is risky, but that the actual perception of this risk was very low and did not curtail these behaviors. Walsh et al. (2008) found a similar result, showing that knowledge of risk was not very predictive of safer driving intentions. It is well known that young adult and older adult age cohorts are more susceptible to vehicle accidents related to distractions and it is imperative that more research be available regarding these age groups so appropriate ad campaigns can be created to address the issues facing these cohorts (National Safety Council 2010).

The Current Study

The objectives of the current study were to compare the opinions of older and younger adults on what constitutes a major driving distraction. Further, this study also examined how favorably or not certain proposed traffic laws may be perceived by these age cohorts. We hypothesized that older adults would rate distractions higher than younger adults based on driver experience and number of years driving. Yang et al. (2013) have shown that more experienced drivers tend to perform better on actual driving and in-vehicle tasks due to their increased awareness of the potential impact of these distractions. This follows from the common finding that older adults are more likely to be distracted and, as a result, more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident (Horberry et al. 2006). Further, older adults would be more in favor of proposed stricter driving laws than younger adults, which is based on the notion that older adults are more cautious as they age (Botwinick 1966). This increased cautiousness likely arises as older adults become more aware of their functional declines as they age. In lieu of ceasing to drive altogether, greater endorsement of these stricter laws could lead to older adults adjusting their driving behavior accordingly. For example, it has been found that the ability to perform multiple tasks while driving tends to decrease with the increased age of the driver (Leversen et al. 2013; McKnight and McKnight 1993). These findings suggests that as drivers are exposed to other distractions, processing speed and cognitive functioning may be diminished due to strain on a limited supply of cognitive resources. Research supports this idea, in that cognitive load or "overload" may negatively affect drivers' abilities to respond to environmental fluctuations and as a result be more likely to be in an accident (Lamble et al. 1999). Cognitive load theory suggests that age is a pivotal aspect of mental development (Kail and Salthouse 1994). Likewise, both simple and choice reaction times show age-related slowing, especially when related to driving and visual processing (Leversen et al 2013).



One hundred ninety-eight participants took part in this study. There were 101 young adults (23 males) and 97 older adults (39 males). Young adult participants were college students who were currently enrolled in an undergraduate psychology course at a large Midwestern university. Each of these participants received course credit for their involvement with the study. Older adult participants were recruited in a number of ways. Some participants were contacted because they were alumni of the university and had participated in past psychology studies, some were directed to the study by word of mouth, and some contacted the researchers based on advertisements found at local organizations that were affiliated with seniors (e.g., senior centers, assisted living facilities retirement communities, etc.). The older adult group received monetary compensation (USD$10) for their participation. This study was approved by the UND Institutional Review Board prior to being performed. The study took approximately 60 minutes.


Background Information

Each participant completed a background information form that included questions about gender, date of birth, education level, and self-rated health compared to others of the same age. Further, participants were asked to provide a list of the type(s) and quantities of medications they were currently taking. Lastly, participants indicated the type of vehicle they presently drove, how many years they have had their driver's license, as well as the approximate number of near-misses and accidents they have been involved in since they began driving. We also gave each participant the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R) vocabulary subtest as a means of gathering data on basic intellectual functioning. This is common in aging research, and we would expect that our older adults would possess greater vocabulary knowledge (higher WAIS-R vocabulary scores) as compared to younger adults.

Cell Phone Use While Driving Questionnaire

The Cell Phone Use While Driving Questionnaire (Stuns et al. 2002) was used to evaluate participants' cell phone ownership, type of cell phone (handheld or hands-free) and the amount of use while driving. Questions also addressed the percentage of time using a cell phone while driving on a typical day and if participants pulled off to the side of the road to use their cell phones. Additional questions on this measure addressed whether participants found hands-free cell phones easier and/or safer while driving. Other items addressed how distracting ten different behaviors (talking with passengers, using a road map, dialing on a cell phone, drinking coffee, talking on a handheld cell phone, talking on a hands-free device, changing radio station, eating a sandwich, answering incoming calls, reading driving instructions) were while driving. These questions were based on a 0-10 scale, with 0 meaning "not at all distracting" and 10 meaning "extremely distracting". Other questions focused on participant opinions on the safety or advantages of cell phone use while driving, which were based on a 10-point scale from 0 "completely disagree" to 10 "completely agree". The last section of this measure included participant opinions on hypothetical cell phone legislation. Responses to these questions are "For", "Against", and "Unknown."


A research set up appointments with all participants to come to the university to complete the protocol individually. Participants were first greeted by the researcher and were provided with the consent form, which the participants read and signed. The participants were then requested to fill out the background information and the questionnaire on cell phone use while driving. Participants were then debriefed and were compensated for their time.


Demographic data and data regarding cell phone usage information appear in Tables 1 and 2.
Table I Mean Demographic data

Variable                Young                 Old

Age (years) 18.93 (range 18-39) 71.66 (range 56-88)**

Education                 14.32               16.06**

# medications              1.86                3.36**

Self-rated health          2.44              2.63, ns
(1=excellent, 5=poor)

WAIS-R                    48.23               61.40**

License (years)            5.33               53.17**

Accidents                  1.07               1.66 **

Near misses                2.80              123.03**

WAIS-R indicates Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised;

** indicates p< .01

Table 2 Cell phone usage data information

       Question                                  Young     Old

Do you own a cell phone'?                Yes/No    92/9   27/70
Use hands-free cell
phone while driving?                     Yes/No   12/89    1/96
Own a cell phone?                        Yes/No    99/2   66/31
Percent time using                       0-29 %      93      96
hands-free cell phone
while driving?                          30-59 %       5       0
                                        60-89 %       2       1
                                         90-99%       1       0
Hands-free devices                        Yes/No  78/22   78/18
make driving easier?
Hands-free devices                        Yes/No  71/30   58/38
make driving safer?
Drive time on typical day      Less than 20 min.     43      26
                                      20-29 min.     28      33
                                       30-59 min     22      25
                                      60-119 min      5      10
                                     120-179 min      2       3
Total time on cell phone        less than 1 min.     20      85
while driving on typical day'?         1-4 mins.     23      11
                                       5-9 mins.     30       1
                                      0-19 mins.     21       0
                                     20-29 mins.      2       0
                                     30-59 mins.      2       0
                                        60 mins.      2       0
                                      120+ mins.      1       0
Percent calls work related'?              1-24 %     92      92
                                          25-49%      6       0
                                          50-74%      2       2
                                          75-99%      1       3
Number of outgoing                             0     35      90
calls made while driving'?               1-2/day     46       5
                                         3-5/day     15       2
                                        6-10/day      5       0
Number of incoming                             0     31      89
calls made while driving?                1-2/day     49       7
                                         3-5/day     17       1
                                        6-10/day      4       0
How often do you pull                      Never     80      54
off the road to use your cell phone'?     Rarely     15      10
                                       Sometimes      3       2
                                         Usually      2      11
                                          Always      1      10

To analyze age group effects, analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were performed and all ANOVAs were corrected for family-wise error using Bonferonni adjustment (.05/ 10=.005). These results appear in Table 3.
Table 3 Distractability level (0=not at all distracting,
10=extremely distracting) as a function of ten questions
and group. All degrees of freedom are 1 and 194

Question (how distracting  Young   Old     F      [eta]sub.p.sup.2]
while driving?

Talking with passengers    3.27   4.52    8.76**        .043

Finding a location using   7.48   8.18      3.33        (ns)
 a map
Dialing a cell phone       6.13   8.33   36.68**       .159*

Drinking a cup of coffee   3.12   5.10   24.29**         111

Talking on cell phone      3.30   5.43   28.36**        .12S
with hands-free device

Talking on a cell phone    5.54   8.18   52.70**        .214
without a hands-free

Changing a radio station    .49   5.57   32.75**        .144

Eating a sandwich           4.92   5.78 2.10 (ns)

Answering an incoming       4.78   7.57   54.82**        .220

Reading driving             7.09   8.41   14.90**        .071

** indicates p<.01

Older adults found all ten activities more distracting than younger adults and only two of the ten activities (finding a location using a road map, eating a sandwich) showed no age effects. Older adults found reading driving instructions to be the most distracting activity (M=8.41) while younger adults found finding a location using a road map as the most distracting activity (M=7.48).

Statement Data

We next examined the potential age differences for the dependent variables of safety and benefits of cell phone use while driving, and opinions on laws regarding cell phone use while driving. After controlling for family-wise error with a Bonferroni adjustment (.05/3=.016), the subsequent ANOVAs for age group significantly differed on two of the three statements. For statement #1 (Most can caiTy on a conversation on their cell phone and still drive safely) there was a significant age effect [F(1, 194)=31.13, p < .00 1, [[eta]sub.p sup2] =.138], which indicated that older adults (M=3.48) were less likely to agree with the statement than were younger adults (M=6.00). For statement #2 (Cell phones are more beneficial to drivers than they are harmful), the age effect was also significant [F(1 , 194)=6.60, p< .016, [eta]sub.p sup2= .033] and indicated that older adults (M=3.95) were less likely to agree with this statement than young adults (M=4.86). Lastly, for statement #3 (Using a hands-free device is safer than using a handheld cell phone) the age effect was not significant [F(1, 194)=4.60, p= .033, ns, [[eta]sub.p sup2= .023], meaning that younger (M=7.33) and older adults (M=6.58) did not differ in their opinions on this statement.

Legislation Questions We next examined the potential age differences for the dependent variables of opinions on laws regarding cell phone use while driving. To examine the effects of age group on the three hypothetical legislation questions, a series of chi-square analyses were conducted.

Responses between younger and older adults on polling question #1 (I think handheld cell phone use while driving should be illegal) were significant [ [x.sup.2] (2), N=198)=31.50, p<.001]. Older adults were more likely to vote "for" this (69 %) than younger adults (31 %). Younger adults were more likely to vote "against" this (73 %) than older adults (27 %). Twenty-one participants (eight younger, 13 older) were "unknown" in their voting decision.

Responses between younger and older adults on polling question #2 (I think the use of all handheld and hands-free cel! phones while driving should be illegal) were significant 1( [x.sup.2] (2), N=198)=85.79, p<.01)]. Older adults were more likely to vote "for" this (88 %) than younger adults (12 %). Younger adults were more likely to vote "against this" (78 %) than older adults (22 %). Nineteen participants (one younger, 18 older) were "unknown" in their voting decision.

Responses between younger and older adults on polling question #3 (A Citation should be given for careless/reckless driving and penalized on insurance) were significant [ [x.sup.2] (2), N=198)=35.99, p<.01)]. Older adults were more likely to vote "for" this (66 %) than younger adults (34 %). Younger adults were more likely to vote "against" this (79 %) than older adults (21 %). Thirty-five participants (13 younger, 22 older) were "unknown" in their voting decision.

Discussion The present study examined the opinions of younger and older adults about distracted driving and cell phone usage. Our results showed a variety of age differences with regard to opinions about driving, cell phone use, and the distractions that ensue. We also showed age differences with regard to the introduction of potential laws regarding driving while using a cell phone, as well as potential laws that would result in issuing a careless or reckless driving citation.

The ability to continue to drive remains one of the most critical factors for older adults regarding the maintenance of their independence as they age. The incorporation of technologies such as cell phones could facilitate and increase this independence. However, this facilitation comes at a potential cost, since driving is arguably the most attention-demanding task and attentional resources are known to decline with age (Stinchcombe and Gagnon 2013; Strayer and Drews 2007). To balance this potential cost, and as shown in the present results, older adults are much more likely to feel that any possible distractions are potentially hazardous compared to young adults (Yang et al. 2013) and are more likely to report that cell phone benefits do not outweigh their disadvantages. Further examination of how older adults adapt to their cognitive declines as they continue to drive in older age appeals necessary.

Despite these findings, our work is not without some limitations. First, we did not ask questions of whether drivers have engaged in any of these particular behaviors and if so, how they attempt to compensate. This knowledge may be beneficial in stimulating campaigns that address how these compensatory behaviors are not as effective as one may assume in preventing an accident. Second, more men should have been involved in the study, especially since it is common for older adult men to drive while their spouses remain a passenger in the vehicle. The fact that more women were a part of the study may have accounted for some of the findings that adult women were more inclined to report on the conservative side and remain cautious about any potential driving distraction and laws to prevent driver distraction behavior. Third, younger adults lack extensive driving experience and may not have suffered from the multitude of close calls and accidents that older adults with more driving experience may have had. It may be valuable for future studies to incorporate a middle-aged adult sample into survey research to more adequately examine opinions across the lifespan, rather than just two largely differing age groups. It is imperative that additional research focus on what factors are contributing to the risky behavior of young adults relating to driver distractions and what types of preventative measures can be set in place to increase driver safety. Further, although it is suggested that cognitive load theory may play a part in the conservative responses of older adults, simulation studies coupled with additional background information about the participants' driving histoty is imperative to understanding how this theory may affect participants' decisions about driving distractions and policies. Fifth, we may have inadvertently primed participants on the notion of cell phones being the biggest distraction due to the placement of some questions. Presenting these at the end of the study would have reduced this priming possibility.

Despite these concerns, there will continue to be a widespread increase in both younger and older adults using a variety of technologies while driving an automobile. The challenges remain to identify how these technologies will both positively and negatively impact driving performance and how these technologies, if effectively deployed, can actually aid drivers (young and old) in driving more safely.

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J. Trisko * F. R. Ferraro

Department of Psychology, University of North Dakota, Stop 8380,

Grand Forks, ND 58202-8380, USA

e-mail: f.riehard.ferraro
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Author:Trisko, Jenna; Richerd, FerraroF
Publication:The Psychological Record
Date:Aug 31, 2014
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