New thinking on in-car distractions

Posted on July 5th, 2013 by James Luckhurst

In car distractionsA new, landmark study has been using advanced techniques such as brainwave measurements, reaction time tests and other indicators, to create a rating scale that assesses levels of distraction among drivers. The study looked at how mentally distracting each task of six different types was relative to two extremes: non-distracted driving and driving while performing a complex mathematical and verbal activity.

Driver distraction can arise as three types: visual (eyes off the road), manual (hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mind off the task). Of these, cognitive distraction is the most difficult to observe and measure.There is evidence of public and policymaker understanding of the risks from visual and manual distractions (especially for texting while driving) but there appears to be less for the risks involved with cognitive (mental) distractions.

This study,carried out by researchers from the United States, introduces a landmark study of mental workload imposed on drivers by the performance of a variety of common secondary tasks: listening to the radio, listening to an audio book, conversing with a passenger, conversing on a hand-held cell phone, conversing on a hands-free cell phone, and interacting with an advanced speech-to-text system similar to those that are increasingly found in new vehicles.

The principal finding was that driver use of in-vehicle speech-to-text technologies is the most distracting of the six tasks. This has important implications given the rapid growth in voice activated infotainment and other in-car systems. The findings also challenge prevailing public assumptions that hands-free devices are safer than their hand-held counterparts.