The American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted a study to rank the cognitive distractions drivers experience when performing certain actions, such as speaking on a cell phone, that take their focus away from the task of driving. Activities that involve removing the hands from the steering wheel or the eyes from the road have been the focus of many studies, but the challenges involved in measuring mental distraction have made previous research attempts inconclusive.
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Scientists determined levels of mental focus
Researchers designed the study to evaluate the mental state of drivers who were focused, and then compare this information with tasks that might interfere with attention. Attaining measurements involved the following:
- Tracking eye movements
- Measuring brain activity
- Performing driver surveys
- Studying reaction times
- Calculating following distances
Next the same tests were performed while the drivers engaged in potentially disrupting behaviors. Drivers communicated on a hand-held device and a hands-free device, spoke with a person in the vehicle, listened to the radio or an audio book, and used a speech-to-text program.
Many activities cause distraction
The test results show that all of the tasks cause some level of distraction, which creates a need for more reaction time because it suppresses areas of the brain that are necessary for safe driving. The vision is affected negatively, narrowing and leading to missed cues and less accuracy. All of these effects have the potential to contribute to a hazardous situation, such as a car accident.
Listening to the radio or an audio book generates the least amount of driver interference, and is very similar to being completely focused. Communicating with a person on a cell phone and having the same conversation on a hands-free device produces nearly the same amount of mental interference. Speaking with another person in the vehicle is not as disruptive as either of those tasks, perhaps because of the ability to discern visual traffic cues and respond accordingly. The speech-to-text programs create more distraction than any of the other tasks, even though these are marketed as safe substitutes.
Diverting attention from the task of driving is risky. However, activities that take the eyes, hands and focus away from the road have much higher potential to cause an injury or fatality. These activities include texting, taking selfies, or looking at the Internet. Victims of car crashes involving a distracted driver can benefit from the experience of an attorney who is able to navigate the Illinois legal system and ensure that adequate compensation is received.