Research Project

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Driver Distraction: Eye Glance Analysis and Conversation Workload


To better understand the relationship of cognitive and visual distraction during mobile phone conversations or interactions while the driver is experiencing real-world driving conditions and pressures.


In 2009, 5,474 people (or 16 percent of the total) were killed in police-reported crashes in which at least 1 form of driver distraction was stated in the crash report. The proportion of fatalities involving driver distraction increased from 10 percent in 2005 to 16 percent in 2009. Numerous research studies have addressed driver distraction. However, this area of research has had considerable difficulty characterizing the content and level of driver involvement in phone conversations. Cognitive distraction is defined as the mental workload associated with an activity that involves thinking about something other than the driving task. It is generally not observable; however, it can be inferred from video and audio analysis. In addition, more research is needed to examine eye glances as they relate to driver distraction. In the earlier study entitled “Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations,” researchers assessed visual distraction via the time the drivers’ eyes were off the forward roadway. The finding of a significant association between eyes-off-forward-roadway glances for times less than 1 second and involvement in a safety critical event (SCE) may suggest that shorter glances, performed just prior to the SCE, may be problematic.


The data will be from an existing naturalistic database from a vendor of onboard monitoring systems. The analyses will include the following:

  • Analyze voice recordings, made while driving, to determine if there is an objective measure of cognitive distraction. Although the term "cognitive distraction" is used, the capabilities of the SmartDrive® system will allow the measurement of "conversation workload" (i.e., a proxy for cognitive distraction).
  • Determine if conversation workload is related to SCE risk during voice-related SCEs.
  • Assess the potential risk posed from other electronic devices, such as a dispatching device.
  • Assess the risk of eye glance behavior (total time eyes-off-forward-roadway) as it relates to involvement in an SCE during voice-related SCEs.
  • Eye glance behavior should be calculated in 0.5-second intervals to determine if multiple glance checks and/or short glances in close proximity to event onset increase the probability of involvement in an SCE.
  • Assess the risk of mobile phone subtasks (dialing, talking, listening, etc.) for hands-free, handheld, CB, and push-to-talk devices.
  • Assess the difference between spurious baselines and random baselines.


A better understanding of safety risks associated with cognitive distraction and the safety risks of short eye glances as compared to lengthier eyes-off-the-forward-roadway glances.


November 2014     Final report delivered




Final report under Agency review.


Virginia Technical Transportation Institute

Updated: Thursday, January 8, 2015
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