Measuring Cognitive Distraction

As I noted last week, there is an increasing amount of research into cognitive distraction in automobiles. This research, which explores how drivers become distracted while driving even when using hands free devices, plays an important role in increasing the safety of roads. During the course of my research for that blog post, I discovered some statistics and research findings about cognitive distraction that I wanted to share.
The following statistics offer some background into the latest study by the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety on cognitive distraction.

Cognitive Distraction Statistics

  • Distracted driving is a significant highway safety threat, responsible for well
    over 3,000 fatalities each year.
  • There are three main sources of driver distraction:
    • Visual (eyes off the road)
    • Manual (hands off the wheel)
    • Cognitive (mind off the task)

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety noted that of the three main sources of driver distraction, cognitive distraction has been the hardest to study.

It also detailed concerning trends about the perceived safety of using hands-free technology while operating vehicles. Prevailing assumptions have held that the use of hands-free technology by drivers is safe.

  • 66% of licensed drivers say driver use of hand-held cell phones is
    unacceptable; 56% say hands-free is acceptable.
  • New speech-based in-vehicle technologies and infotainment systems
    have proliferated.

Key Findings about Cognitive Distraction

According to Foundation for Traffic Safety, even when a driver’s eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel, sources of cognitive distraction cause significant impairments to driving, such as:

  • Suppressed brain activity in the areas needed for safe driving;
  • Increased reaction time (to peripheral detection test and lead vehicle braking);
  • Missed cues and decreased accuracy (to peripheral detection test); and
  • Decreased visual scanning of the driving environment (tunnel vision, of sorts).
  • Driver interactions with in-vehicle speech-to-text systems (such as the infotainment offerings in many new vehicles) create the highest level of cognitive distraction among the tasks assessed.

As the study concludes, “hands-free” does not mean risk free. There are considerable risks to the safety of the driver, the passengers and other motorists on the road.

The statistics listed in this post come from the Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile Fact Sheet:

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