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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and their Effect on Drivers When Used for Transportation Applications: Home

UAV Distraction

This guide was developed to introduce talking points in the concern over potential driver distraction from UAV use in transportation applications.  Resources are listed following the discussions on each section; not all resources are directly cited in the discussions.  The links will go to either an abstract or full-text report or article.  Abstract pages from ASCE and TRB can be accessed full-text from ODOT computers; other articles that have only abstracts available can be requested from other libraries.  Full bibliographic references can be provided on request.

The LibGuide platform is provided through the National Transportation Library in Washington, DC.

2018 Update: Oregon Department of Transportation Research Unit has published reports on UAV use for bridge inspections, and on the effects of drones on driver distraction (see below).

Transportation Application for UAVs

Originally developed for military purposes, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have long been studied for their potential domestic applications, including use in the fields of agriculture, construction, law enforcement, search and rescue, and transportation. Numerous studies have been conducted to identify how drones could be used by departments of transportation to increase efficiency and safety, reduce costs, and replace stationary systems. Most of these were feasibility studies, with a few very limited field tests; however, it appears that UAVs could successfully be used in traffic management, incident response, infrastructure inspection, and avalanche control, to name a few of the potential applications. FAA restrictions did not allow for widespread development of these recommendations, but the rules have eased during this past year, and costs have come down considerably. These factors have prompted renewed interest in creating drone programs, and ODOT is launching a research project testing the use of drones for bridge inspections.

However, little in the literature discusses the reaction that UAV use might have on the driving public. Several of the articles mention that this subject will need to be addressed, but none gave any more information than a passing comment. Interestingly, the initial military use for these vehicles was to act as a decoy to distract enemy troops to what was occurring on the ground (Hart and Gharaibeh, 2010). An anecdotal account of potential results of drone distraction came from a recent column in an Orange County, CA newspaper, where a reader wrote in to complain about spotting something in the sky while driving in slow traffic on the freeway. She claimed to have stuck her phone out the window, and without looking through the viewfinder, snapped a photo. Realizing that she had a picture of a drone flying over the traffic, she wanted to know what it was doing there. This could be a recurring source of unsafe behavior on the part of drivers, at least until the technology becomes more commonplace.

In the absence of available statistics on UAV distraction, information has been gathered on:

  • Driver distractions that might compare to that caused by a UAV
  • Public perception of domestic use of UAVs
  • Driver response to warning signs, since these will be used in areas of bridge inspection research

Guide Author

Laura Wilt

Librarian, Oregon Department of Transportation