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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Strategies to Manage Distractions

A man drives a train.
Used by permission of Transdev, Inc.

System Developers

Those who build displays and workstations match the amount, pace, and layout of information with what operators need. Overloading with too much information can be as much of a problem as having too little information.

Rail companies use participatory design to include operators in the adoption and installation of new systems to best match system improvements to operator needs. 



Here are some ideas on how operators manage distractions. You may actually be using some of them already because a number of these suggestions come from using safe driving habits. Most of us have experience with that. Even when suggestions seem fairly obvious, people often don’t comply with them. We hope to add some new ones to your toolbox! Keep these safe practices at the front of your mind, using whatever method works for you.

  • Turn off and stow your cell phone
  • Refrain from eating, drinking, reading, grooming, smoking, and any other activities that may compromise your attention
  • Avoid emotional or stressful conversations and thoughts


An example of a cheat sheet.
  • Use memory aids (e.g. annotate your route sheet to create a “cheat sheet”) See example at right.
  • Use environmental cues to support attentional focus. For example, one engineer said, “When I can smell the dog food factory, I should be off the throttle and transitioning to dynamic. When I can see the dog food factory, I know I should be breaking on dynamic and into minimal reduction on air brakes.”
  • One engineer said, "I call my conductor after every stop."
  • Get enough rest
  • Be mindful of your health and avoid medications that may affect your response time while in the workplace


  • Nemeth, C., Papautsky, L., Grome, A. & Fallon, C. (2014). Computer-Based Training in Human-Systems Integration . Technical Report. Federal Railroad Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Washington, DC. 20590
  • Traffic Safety Facts. Research note, Distracted Driving 2011. (April 2013). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC.
  • Strayer, D.L., Cooper, J.M., Turrill, J., Coleman, J. Medeiros-Ward, N., Biondi, F. (June 2013). Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Washington, DC.