Self-regulation of driving speed among distracted drivers: An application of driver behavioral adaptation theory

Objective: The adaptive behavior of mobile phone–distracted drivers has been a topic of much discussion in the recent literature. Both simulator and naturalistic studies suggest that distracted drivers generally select lower driving speeds; however, speed adaptation is not observed among all drivers, and the mechanisms of speed selection are not well understood. The aim of this research was to apply a driver behavioral adaptation model to investigate the speed adaptation of mobile phone–distracted drivers.

Methods: The speed selection behavior of drivers was observed in 3 phone conditions including baseline (no conversation) and hands-free and handheld phone conversations in a high-fidelity driving simulator. Speed adaptation in each phone condition was modeled as a function of secondary task demand and self-reported personal/psychological characteristics with a system of seemingly unrelated equations (SURE) accounting for potential correlations due to repeated measures experiment design.

Results: Speed adaptation is similar between hands-free and handheld phone conditions, but the predictors of speed adaptation vary across the phone conditions. Though perceived workload of secondary task demand, self-efficacy, attitude toward safety, and driver demographics were significant predictors of speed adaptation in the handheld condition, drivers' familiarity with the hands-free interface, attitude toward safety, and sensation seeking were significant predictors in the hands-free condition. Drivers who reported more positive safety attitudes selected lower driving speeds while using phones.

Conclusion: This research confirmed that behavioral adaptation models are suitable for explaining speed adaptation of mobile phone distracted drivers, and future research could be focused on further theoretical refinement.