Study measures cognitive distraction in drivers

Despite the fact that Pennsylvania has passed a law banning all drivers from texting while driving, using a hand-held cellphone is permissible. However, lawmakers in Pennsylvania may want to look at a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Cognitive distraction

According to USA Today, the study provides the most in-depth information yet on how different distractions affect a person's mental capacity to focus on their environment. While there is plenty of information available discussing the risks associated with distractive behavior - including using a cellphone or texting - there has been little information related to cognitive distraction.

The AAA report backs up the claims of another study conducted in Texas which showed that using a voice-to-text technology was just as dangerous as sending a text on a hand-held cell phone. However, the study's findings are being disputed by the technology and automotive industries, who are promoting hands-free technology in new vehicles.

The experiments

Researchers at the University of Utah conducted experiments with over 150 participants. The experiments were held in three different types of environments. These environments consisted of a lab, a driving simulator and then driving in a natural environment inside an instrumented vehicle. In order to create a measuring scale, the researchers first asked participants to only focus on driving. Sensors were attached to the participants' heads in order to measure their brain waves for the sole activity.

Once researchers had a starting level, participants were then asked to engage in an activity while driving. These activities were:

  • Talking on a hand-held phone.
  • Talking on a hands-free phone.
  • Listening to music.
  • Listening to an audio book.
  • Talking to a passenger.
  • Using a voice-to-text technology in the vehicle.

As participants engaged in each activity, cameras and sensors captured their behaviors and what their mind was doing when presented with potentially dangerous situations and cues.

Driver behavior affected

Researchers discovered that with more complicated mental tasks, participants missed seeing visual cues, did not visually scan the environment around them as frequently and were slower to hit the brake when a situation did arise. The researchers claim in their report that hands-free devices are no safer than hand-held devices and that drivers could easily be at risk for getting into an accident.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported that there were over 121,000 motor vehicle accidents and out of that number, close to 88,000 people suffered injuries and over 1,300 people died. While not every accident is caused by a distracted driver, it is a factor in a large percent nationally and people should be doing all they can to eliminate distractions while behind the wheel of their vehicle.

When a person is injured in an accident because another person's mind was on other things other than the road around them, that victim often faces some large challenges. It would be in their best interest to contact an experienced lawyer to learn about their legal right to compensation.