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Important Terminology

Distracted Driving Glossary

Accident We prefer the word “accident” be avoided when referencing a motor vehicle crash. By definition, accident means unpreventable. We believe all crashes involving cell phone use are preventable. Therefore, we prefer the terms crash or collision be used.
Auditory Distraction
Any distraction that occurs when a driver temporarily or continually focuses attention on sounds other than the road and its environment.
Cell Phone
It is estimated more than 100 million people use cell phones while driving. A 2009 Nationwide Insurance public opinion poll found 81 percent of the public admit to talking on a cell phone while driving.
Cell Phone Ban 
A policy, law or rule that limits one’s ability to talk on a cell phone while driving.  Many states have cell phone bans prohibiting texting and handheld phones. On Jan. 12, 2009 the National Safety Council called for all motorists to stop talking and texting while driving on both handheld and hands-free phones.
Cognitive Distraction 
Any distraction or thought that absorbs one’s attention to the point where actions and responses necessary for driving are impaired. Cell phone use while driving is a cognitive distraction because the mind must quickly switch between two complex tasks – driving and talking. Learn more about cognitive distraction at
Crash Risk 
The likelihood of being in a motor vehicle crash. Every distraction has a different crash risk level. For example, drivers who use a cell phone behind the wheel are four times as likely to be in a crash.
Distracted Driving 
Any visual, cognitive or manual distraction that takes a driver’s attention away from the primary task of safely operating a motor vehicle. Distracted driving is a factor in about 80 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.
Hands-Free Phone
A cell phone that does not require the hands for operation. Allows one to dial and then talk without grasping the phone. Hands-free devices include wireless headsets, speakerphones and phones built into vehicles.
Handheld Phone
A cell phone that physically requires the hands for operation.
Hands-Free vs. Handheld Phones 
Research shows there is little difference between the driving safety risk of handheld vs. hands-free cell phones. Results show both types of phones (1) contribute to more accidents and driving errors; (2) impair reaction times; (3) and slow down overall vehicle speeds.
Physical Distraction 
Any distraction that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel.
Reaction Time 
The time between the application of a stimulus and the response to it. Research shows both handheld and hands-free cell phones use while driving imapairs reaction time.
Short Message Service (SMS) 
A communication service offered by cellular networks that allows the interchange of text messages between cell phones.
A small, wireless device that provides information storage and retrieval capabilities for business and personal use. Allows remote access to email and the Internet. Smartphones include iPhones, Palm Pilots and BlackBerrys.
Text Messaging 
The practice of sending written messages between mobile phones over cellular networks using the Short Message Service (SMS) available on most cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). A 2009 Nationwide Insurance public opinion poll found nearly 40 percent of teenagers and young adults surveyed sent and received text messages while driving.
Visual Distraction 
Any distraction that takes a driver's eyes off the road. 
Wireless Headsets 
A headset that connects to a cell phone when in a close vicinity of one another. Wireless headsets give phones automatic hands-free capability. Research shows there is little difference between the driving safety risk of handheld vs. hands-free cell phones.

Types of Research


Epidemiological Research The study of using data to find patterns of events, like disease and injury, among groups of people. Epidemiological research monitors data over time to (1) detect increases or decreases in trends (2) and changes in disease or injury distribution. This type of research finds cell phones are associated with a fourfold increased risk of crashing.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) The study of following the change in blood flow due to nerve cell activity in the brain. fMRI research records all regions of the brain and allows researches to see images of brain activity. This type of research is used to study associations between brain activity and driving tasks.
Naturalistic Studies The study of observing subjects as they go about normal activities under conditions as natural as possible. In-vehicle cameras have made it possible to conduct naturalistic studies on drivers participating in an everyday activity.
Simulator Research The study of using driving simulators to study human factors related to driving tasks, behavior and performance. Simulators are useful when it is dangerous or unethical to place drivers on real roads. For example, simulators are used when comparing the driving performance of cell phones with drinking alcohol.


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