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Study creates rating scale for cognitive distraction

A recent study on cognitive distraction raises concern over the increasing use of voice activated systems in cars.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported that in 2014, over 13,000 crashes were attributed to distracted driving. Forty-nine of those crashes resulted in death and thousands of people suffered injury. While the state’s crash report points out that distraction is a common problem for younger drivers, all drivers can fall victim to this behavior.

Looking at cognitive distraction

In an effort to understand more about cognitive distraction, researchers at the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted a series of experiments with the assistance of 38 people at a university. The experiments were conducted in three different environments: an instrumented car in a residential neighborhood, a driving simulator and a laboratory.

The experiments consisted of a series of tests in which drivers were asked to do the following:

  • Drive without engaging in any other activity
  • Listen to the radio
  • Talk to a passenger
  • Use a hands-free cellphone
  • Talk on a hand-held cellphone
  • Listen to an audio book

Additionally, people were also asked to use a speech-to-text system while performing driving tasks and to solve a complex series of problems. To capture data, the drivers were fitted with special cameras and sensors that recorded physical reactions, brain activity in the section used for driving and normal driving behaviors.

Tasks with highest levels of mental workload

The complex problems established the high end of the scale and the sole driving task created the low end of the scale. After the data was analyzed, researchers found that the highest source of cognitive distraction for drivers was using the speech-to-text system. This was followed by the hand-held cellphone and talking to a passenger.

Study raises concern

The results of the study raise concern for researchers because in recent years, new cars have been launched with voice-command systems. These programs have been marketed as safety features that will lower driver distraction. Car manufacturers and the companies developing these technologies say that the systems will enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, giving them the ability to essentially multi-task while traveling.

However, such systems may actually increase the level of cognitive distraction, according to the study’s results. This means drivers may have their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel, but their brain is not thinking about driving. In the study, drivers who were using the speech-to-text system were slower to hit their brakes, scanned their driving environment less often and even missed visual cues of potential accident risks.

As cars become more like mobile computers, there is a great deal more potential for drivers to get into a collision. People in Enola who are victims of car accidents often struggle emotionally, financially, mentally and physically. They may find meeting with an attorney is helpful in seeking justice against negligent motorists.