Study: Cognitive effects can be hazardous for drivers

Recent research has shown that cognitive distractions can be hazardous for motorists and may make them more likely to be involved in collisions.

Speed and alcohol have long been considered two of the most common causes for accidents in California, and throughout the U.S. Distractions, including using cell phones, however, are increasingly contributing to motor vehicle crashes. According to, the government’s distracted driving website, it is estimated that distraction-related collisions were responsible for injuring an estimated 421,000 people in 2012 alone.

During that same year, more than 3,300 people were killed in vehicular accidents involving distracted drivers. Many drivers feel safe utilizing the integrated talk to text and speech recognition software that is being integrated into many vehicles and cell phones. According to a study conducted by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah, these systems can be serious distractions for drivers.

Distractions drivers regularly face

According to researchers, generally, activities that divert motorists’ attention away from the task of operating their vehicles can be considered distractions. There are a number of things, which may compete for drivers’ attentions, including talking to passengers, adjusting or listening to the radio, and using cell phones. For the most part, distractions can be separated into three primary categories – manual, visual and cognitive.

Manual distractions are those that take motorists’ hands off of the steering wheel. Visual distractions are those that take drivers’ eyes off of the road. Cognitive distractions are those that take motorists’ minds off the task of operating their vehicles. Due to distractions, drivers may be involved in collisions, which can cause serious personal injury and death for them, and others.

Examining the effects of cognitive distractions

The effects of cognitive, or mental, distractions on drivers are the least researched. Researchers for this study established a scale for measuring these types of distractions and sought to examine how these types of distractions can impact motorists.

In the study, researchers asked participants to perform a number of different tasks in instrumented cars, in driving simulators and in the lab. Equipment, including cameras and electronic sensors, were used to gather data as the participants performed the various tasks. To establish the low end of the scale, the participants were monitored while driving with no distractions. The high end of the scale was established by monitoring participants while completing complex verbal and math problems. Additionally, the study’s participants were monitored while listening to an audiobook, listening to the radio, talking on hand-held and hands-free devices, conversing with a passenger and using speech-to-text technologies.

Study shows distractions are hazardous

Based on the study’s findings, using speech-to-text technologies are among the most distracting tasks for motorists. Overall, the tasks that participants performed in the study were shown to increase the mental workloads for drivers. This resulted in the following:

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

Based on the study’s findings, drivers can be distracted even with their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road.

Working with an attorney

In general, the best way for motorists to ensure their safety, and the safety of others, is to avoid distractions of any kind while driving. When drivers do cause accidents as the result of being distracted, it can have a life-changing impact on other motorists and their passengers. People who have suffered injuries as a result of distraction-related collisions may benefit from working with a legal professional. An attorney may explain their options, and advise them as to the best course of action for their situations.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, texting

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