Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Industrial Engineering

First Advisor

Linda Ng Boyle

Second Advisor

Geb Thomas


Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are injuries to the brain associated with the transfer of energy from some external source. There are an estimated 1.4 million TBIs each year, and about half are due to transportation crashes (NINDS, 2007). Driver distraction is defined as a process or condition that draws a driver's attention away from driving activities toward a competing activity (Sheridan, 2004) and has been identified as an under-examined issue for TBI populations (Cyr, et al., 2008). The interaction between the cognitive impairments related to TBIs and the competing demands from driver distraction may be especially problematic. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate the effect of driver distraction on individuals with TBI.

This dissertation uses several approaches and data sources: crash data, a TBI registry, a survey of TBI drivers, and an on-road driving study of TBI and non-TBI drivers. Results demonstrate that a subset of TBI drivers are more willing to engage in distracting tasks and they are more likely to have received speeding tickets. TBI drivers involved in crashes were less likely to wear seatbelts and were more likely to be involved in multiple crashes compared to all other drivers in crashes. Additionally, a subset of TBI drivers exhibits more risk-taking while driving that may result from the TBI or a predisposition to take risks.

A Bayesian approach was used to analyze the effect of distracting tasks on driving performance of TBI drivers in an on-road study. A simulator study of non-TBI drivers was used to develop prior distributions of parameter estimates. The distracting tasks include a CD selecting task, a coin sorting task, and a radio tuning task. All of the tasks contained visual-manual components and the coin sorting task contained an additional cognitive component associated with counting the currency. This suggests that TBI drivers exhibited worse driving performance during a coin sorting task than the non-TBI drivers in terms of the standard deviation of speed and maximum lateral acceleration of the vehicle. This suggests that the cognitive component of the coin sorting task may be causing the decreased performance for the TBI drivers. Across all tasks, TBI drivers spent a larger percent of the task duration looking at the task with a larger number of glances towards the distraction task than the non-TBI drivers.

Driver distractions with cognitive components may be especially problematic for TBI drivers. Future work should investigate if this effect is consistent across more complex cognitive driver distraction tasks (e.g., cell phone usage) for this population. Additionally, future work should validate the high proportion of TBI drivers involved in multiple crashes.


Bayesian statistics, crash data, driver distraction, driving performance, traumatic brain injuries


x, 137 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 113-124).


Copyright 2010 David Michael Neyens