Hands-free technologies might make it easier for drivers to text, talk on the phone, or even use Facebook while they drive, but new findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety show dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. This is the most comprehensive study of its kind to look at the mental distraction of drivers.
The research finds that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues. What this means is drivers may not see things that are right in front of them, including pedestrians and stop signs.
The research was done by Dr. David Strayer and his team at the University of Utah. Researchers developed a scale to rate the levels of mental distraction drivers experience while performing various tasks:
• Tasks such as listening to the radio ranked as a category “1” level of distraction or a minimal risk.
• Talking on a cell-phone, both handheld and hands-free, resulted in a “2” or a moderate risk.
• Listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features increased mental workload and distraction levels of the drivers to a “3” rating or one of extensive risk.
Based on this research, AAA urges the automotive and electronics industries to join us in exploring:
• Limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control.
• Disabling certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.
• Educating vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.