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Study offers first in-depth look at cognitive distraction

Here in Massachusetts, the state has passed a ban on texting and driving but it is likely that many still continue to engage in this type of activity
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    December 21, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- While driving around Boston it is not uncommon to see people who are doing some other task other than driving. Over the past several years, driver distraction has been an issue that has been brought up by national, state and local agencies. According to over 3,300 people were killed in the U.S. during 2012 and 421,000 people were injured in car accidents where a driver was distracted by something.

Here in Massachusetts, the state has passed a ban on texting and driving but it is likely that many still continue to engage in this type of activity. Texting is considered the most dangerous form of distraction but it is not the only distractive behavior that drivers do. Other distractions involve talking to passengers, grooming, watching a video, eating and drinking, using maps and talking on their phone.

Cognitive distraction

Most people think of distracted driving as doing something that requires them to take their eyes off the road ahead, or their hands off of the steering wheel, but distracted driving can also involve mental distraction. This is referred to as cognitive distraction and just about everyone has had the experience of missing an exit or a turn because they were thinking about something else.

Surprisingly, not much research has been conducted on cognitive distraction until recently. According to USA Today, a new study is being called the most comprehensive study done on cognitive distraction. The study was conducted by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and involved over 150 participants, three testing environments and multiple experiments.

Measuring cognitive distraction and its impact on driving

The purpose of the study was to create a measuring scale for cognitive distractions and then examine how different activities affected drivers. Participants in the study were asked to engage in the following distractions:
- Listening to a radio.
- Listening to an audio book.
- Talking to a passenger.
- Talking on a hand-held phone.
- Talking on a hands-free phone.
- Using a speech-to-text email technology.

In order to be able to rate the difference that each activity made on a driver, participants were first tested with just the task of driving. Cameras, electronic sensors and other equipment were used to gather data about the drivers' behaviors and to record brain waves.

Is hands-free really safer?

The results of the experiments revealed that drivers were more distracted with more complicated tasks. In fact one of the most distracting tasks was using the speech-to-text technology which is thought to be safer because a driver is not manually or visually distracted. Data gathered showed that drivers were slower to hit their brakes when a situation appeared, missed visual cues to a potential danger and did not visually scan their driving environment as frequently as they did with less distracting tasks.

The study's researchers say that these results show that drivers are at the same risks using hands-free technology as they are in using hand-held devices. The best way to eliminate distracted driving is simply to keep one's attention solely on the task of driving. When people are injured because of a distracted driver, they should consider their options with the counsel of an experienced attorney.

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