Study: Cognitive distractions pose a serious danger for Texas drivers

Cognitive distractions, including using hands-free devices, take a driver’s attention off of driving and may contribute to causing serious auto accidents.

All too often, motor vehicle accidents occur on the roads throughout Texas, and elsewhere. Historically, speed and alcohol have been considered the top contributors for such collisions. Distractions, including talking or texting and driving, however, are now also among the leading causes of auto collisions. According to the National Safety Council, the use of cellphones, including hands-free devices, is involved in approximately 26 percent of all motor vehicle wrecks across the U.S.

Distractions facing today's motorists

With regards to driving, distractions are any behaviors that compete for motorists' attention. There are a number of different distractions, which may divert a driver's attention from the road. Such distractions include talking on the phone, text messaging and even listening to the radio.

In general, distractions may be separated into three primary types - cognitive, manual and visual. A cognitive distraction is a behavior that takes a motorist's mind off of the primary task of operating a vehicle. Manual distractions are those that take a driver's hands off of the steering wheel. Visual distractions are behaviors that take a motorist's eyes off of the road.

Studying the effects of cognitive distractions on drivers

Cognitive, or mental, distractions are the least researched of the distractions drivers face while on the road. However, a study conducted by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety was aimed at understanding how such distractions affect motorists. In order to do this, the study created a scale by which these types of distractions could be measured.

For the study, researchers asked participants to perform various tasks in an instrumented vehicle, a driving simulator and a lab. They then used cameras, electronic sensors and other equipment to collect data throughout the tasks. The low and high ends of the scale were determined by monitoring participants while they drove with no distractions and while completing complex verbal and math problems. Researchers also asked the participants to listen to an audiobook, listen to the radio, talk on both a hands-free and hand-held cellphone, talk to a passenger and use speech-to-text technologies.

Study shows cognitive distractions are hazardous

The study found that drivers did not have to have their hands off of the wheel or eyes off the road in order to be distracted. In fact, the findings showed that hands-free options, including speech-to-text technologies, were one of the most distracting tasks for participants during the study. Overall, the tasks were found to result in increased mental workloads for motorists, which led to the following:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Missed visual cues
  • Compromised brain function
  • Narrowed fields of vision

As such, using hands-free devices may not be enough to help people prevent distracted driving accidents. Therefore, avoiding distractions of all types while driving is the best way for drivers to ensure not only their own safety, but also that of those with whom they share the road.

Seek legal counsel

When involved in accidents caused by distracted drivers, Texans may suffer serious injuries, which require medical treatment and care. Such injuries may lead to undue medical expenses, as well as affect their ability to work. In these cases, the distracted motorists may be held liable for the resulting damages. Therefore, it may be of benefit for those who have experienced this type of situation to work with an attorney. A legal representative may help them to determine whether distractions contributed to causing their crashes, as well as understand their options for seeking compensation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident, injury