Finian Ralph

An Analysis of Drivers’ Face-touching Behaviour: Implications for the Spread of COVID-19


Face-touching is a mechanism for the transmission of coronaviruses. The behaviour has been scrutinised in various settings, including postgraduate offices, simulated trains and lecture halls. In a driving context, however, the phenomenon was unexplored. In this thesis, the aim was to identify and characterise drivers’ face-touching. Furthermore, the study aimed to investigate the relationship between mental workload and face-touching behaviour. Archival video data from two previous on-road driving studies involving 36 participants’ drives was obtained for analysis. A coding scheme based on empirical review delivered the framework for the face-touching analysis, refined into categories: facial segment, hand segment and driving tasks.

Video analysis was completed using Behavioral Observation Research Software (BORIS). In a total of 31:01:34 hours of video footage, 819 face contacts were recorded. The average touch frequency was 26.4 times per hour and average touch duration was 3.86 seconds. In 42.5% of all touch actions, contact was made with mucous membranes. No significant differences in touch frequency were found between gender or age. The left hand was predominantly used. Hand segment analysis revealed that the palmar side of the hand contributed 81.6% of touches recorded. Palmer fingertips (33.1%), palmar thumb (16.8%) and palmar thumb tip (18.8%) were the most utilised segments. No significant differences were found for face-touching frequency and duration for conditions of differing driver mental workload.

The results of the study highlight the prevalence of drivers’ face-touching behaviour with sections of the hand that are frequently missed when handwashing. Interventions to reduce transmission include the introduction of physical barriers, reinforcement of hand hygiene practices and hand roles. The suggested measures, coupled with an explicit awareness and monitoring of the behaviour, may help to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a driving context. Future studies need to be meticulously designed to explore the relationship between workload and face-touching to gain further comprehension. 

Abstract from research paper by Finian Ralph 
September 2020