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Cognitive distraction focus of recent study

Written by Ankin Law Office

The use of hands-free technology has been widely touted as the most effective way to reduce incidences of distracted driving. Twelve states have completely banned the use of handheld devices while driving, and the federal government has multiple awareness programs in place to help distracted drivers learn how to become safer on the roads. While removing as many distractions as possible is essential to increase road safety, a new study by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that hands-free devices may not be the most effective route to take. Researchers focused specifically on cognitive distraction, or inattention, in distracted drivers.

About the Study

The study aimed to determine exactly how distracted a driver becomes while engaged in certain tasks. To demonstrate this, they had three objectives: determine what causes the mind to lose focus while driving, identify what tasks use the most brain power while driving, and create a scale to rank each task on how it contributes to cognitive distraction.

To reach these objectives, researchers designed three separate experiments. Individuals were evaluated while using a driving simulator, an instrumented vehicle, and while in a lab. In each setting, they performed the same tasks. These include the following:

  • Listening to the radio
  • Listening to a book on tape
  • Speaking with a passenger
  • Talking on a cellphone, handheld
  • Talking on a hands-free cellphone
  • Using a speech-to-text email system

As a control, the drivers were also evaluated on their cognitive distraction while driving without distraction and driving while answering math and verbal problems. To measure the amount of distraction, researchers used subjective workload ratings, brake reaction time and following distance, peripheral light detection reaction and accuracy tests, brainwave activity, and head and eye movements.

Key findings

Researchers determined that even if a driver’s eyes and hands remain where they should be, cognitive distraction can severely impair their ability to notice cues and maintain accuracy to peripheral detection tests. They also show signs of suppressed brain activity and exhibit increased reaction times to outside stimuli. All of these can contribute to the likelihood of car accidents occurring. Among all the methods of distraction, listening to the radio was the least distracting of the evaluated tasks. Surprisingly, the speech-to-text email system proved the most distracting. Researchers conclude that hands-free devices do not eliminate incidents of cognitive distraction, and may even cause them to increase.

Devastating consequences

Cognitive distraction can lead to deadly accidents. This was the case when a DeWitt, Michigan woman recently became distracted by text messages on her cell phone. When the 23-year-old looked down at her cell phone for a moment, her car drifted into the bike lane, striking and killing a bicyclist.

This same experience has happened many times in Chicago. Those who have been injured by a distracted driver should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss their claim.

Categories: Auto Accidents