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

The findings confirm that motorists could miss potential environmental cues such as stop signs, pedestrians or other cars while engaged in mentally distracting tasks. Using a five category rating system, analogous to that used for hurricanes, AAA can now rate the different levels of mental distractions that various activities can cause in a driver’s brain.

This study 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, such as features allowing drivers to respond to text messages or emails, results in a high level of mental distraction that detracts from 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.