Cognitive distraction expert Dr. David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to drivers’ mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once.

Hands-free technologies, once thought to be a safer alternative for drivers than hand-held cell phones, actually are more distracting for drivers, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. While such devices might make it easier for motorists to text, talk on the phone or even use Facebook while they drive, do we really want employees – or anyone – doing these things while driving?

The study 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. The research found that as mental workload and distractions increase reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in drivers not seeing items right in front of them including stop signs and pedestrians. This is the most comprehensive study of its kind to look at the mental distraction of drivers and arms AAA with evidence to appeal to the public to not use these voice-to-text features while their vehicle is in motion.

Vehicle crashes already are the number one cause of fatal, work-related injuries. And crashes are the leading cause of death for everyone between 5 and 35 years old. About 100 people die every day on our nation’s roads.

The number one cause of car crashes is human error and driver distraction is the top human error. With a predicted five-fold increase in infotainment systems in new vehicles by 2018, AAA and the National Safety Council (NSC) are calling for action.

“There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free.”

Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO, said her organization “joins the AAA Foundation in urging the auto industry and policy makers to carefully evaluate all the research on this issue. We encourage these groups to reconsider the inclusion of communications and entertainment technology built into vehicles which allow, or even encourage, the driver to engage in these activities at the expense of focusing on driving.” 

Think You Know All About Distracted Driving? Think Again!
EHS Today