Mental Distraction – What We Know

Measuring Distracted Driving Building on five decades of work in aviation safety, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and researchers at the University of Utah are conducting first-of-its kind research to measure what really happens inside the brain when drivers attempt to do multiple things at once. The research has found that cognitive distraction is real and potentially dangerous. Read the full research reports:

Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile.
Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile II: Assessing In-Vehicle Voice-Based Interactive Technologies
Mental Workload of Common Voice-Based Interactions across Six Different Vehicle Systems
Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile III: A Comparison of ten 2015 In-Vehicle Information Systems
The Smartphone and the Driver’s Cognitive Workload: A Comparison of Apple, Google, and Microsoft’s Intelligent Personal Assistants

The findings confirm that motorists could miss potential environmental cues such as stop signs, pedestrians or other cars while engaged in mentally distracting tasks. Researchers also discovered that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after using voice commands to make a call, send a text or change the music in the worst-performing systems. Using a five-category rating system, analogous to that used for hurricanes, we can now rate the different levels of mental distractions that various activities can cause in a driver’s brain.

Phase III and Phase IIIA research adds to a strong body of research showing that drivers are not necessarily safer just because their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel.  Attention and focus are key to safe driving, and the use of hands-free technologies in the car is not risk-free – mental distraction can cause a driver to crash.

The use of speech-to-text technologies and voice-activated personal assistance in vehicles and phones, results in a high level of mental distraction that limits a driver’s attention on the road. Comparatively, talking on the phone results in a moderate level of mental distraction, which can significantly affect drivers’ attention behind the wheel.