Do you remember when the pandemic broke out that one of the precautions we were encouraged to take was not to touch your face?
And with good reason.
Whichever bacteria and viruses are in your nose and throat are also on your face, so touching it could spread them to wherever you put your hands.
Well, new research by Nottingham University has revealed that drivers touch their face 26 times an hour on average, potentially spreading germs and infection all over their vehicle.
Researchers from the University’s Human Factors Research Group scrutinised 31 hours of archive video footage obtained from two on-road driving studies, documenting 36 experienced drivers.
They were observed touching on or around their face 26.4 times per hour, with each touch lasting for nearly four seconds.
The face itself was touched most (79%), followed by the hair (10%), neck (8%) and shoulders (1%).
On 42% of occasions, drivers made contact with mucous membranes (inner lining of the lips, nostrils and eyes) approximately every five minutes, with fingertips and thumbs most commonly employed – areas frequently missed in handwashing.
There were no gender or age differences so it looks as if all drivers are potentially at risk of contamination through face touching while driving.
The researchers acknowledge face-touching behaviours, such as nose picking and ear cleaning, could be much more prevalent than even they found – particularly when drivers travel alone in their own vehicle.
To a driver, face touching risks transmission especially if there are other people in the vehicle and where hand hygiene is poor. By scratching their nose or rubbing their eye, for example, the driver may inadvertently transfer viruses or another hazardous foreign substances to their face.
Aside from virus transmission, constantly touching the face could be a distraction from actually piloting your vehicle, putting others at further risk.
The study did show that when driving in difficult conditions requiring intense concentration, the level of face touching was reduced.
Moreover, driver monitoring systems – which can already detect fatigue and distraction by tracking eye blink rate and head nodding – could be developed to detect or predict inadvertent face-touching.
Reminders and alerts could be located within vehicles in the driver’s normal field of view or incorporated within human-machine interfaces, such as the car’s infotainment dashboard. This would encourage the adoption and maintenance of these new safe behaviours.