Study: Cognitive distractions pose serious risk for Tennessee drivers

Cognitive distractions, including using hand-free phones, take drivers’ attention off the task of driving and may contribute to causing auto accidents.

Motor vehicle accidents are all too common on the roads across Tennessee, and throughout the U.S. While alcohol and speed have historically been the leading contributors, distractions are now also among the top causes of auto collisions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1,153 people in the U.S. are injured each day in distracted driving accidents.

Distractions facing motorists today

For motorists, anything that takes their attention off of their primary task of driving may be considered a distraction. This could include talking on the phone or with a passenger, eating, changing the radio station or text messaging. Many people are aware of the risks posed by visual distractions, those that take a driver's eyes off of the road, and manual distractions, those that take a driver's hands off of the steering wheel. Only recently, however, have people begun to take notice of the dangers of cognitive distractions. Cognitive distractions, which take a driver's mind off of the task of safely operating a vehicle, are just as likely to lead to an auto accident as visual and manual distractions.

Studying the effects of cognitive distractions

The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted a study to better understand how cognitive distractions can affect drivers. Researchers did this by first establishing a scale to measure cognitive distractions. They monitored study participants while they performed several tasks in a lab, a driving simulator and an instrumented vehicle using electronic sensors, cameras and other equipment. In the study, the participants were asked by the researchers to listen to the radio and an audiobook, talk on a hand-held phone, talk on a phone using a hands-free device, converse with a passenger and use speech-to-text technology.

Hands-free is not always risk-free

Based on the study's findings, drivers can be distracted even when their hands are on the wheel and their eyes are on the road. Speech-to-text technologies have been widely touted as an effective solution for reducing driver distractions. However, the study showed that the use of such technology is one of the most distracting tasks for a driver. Overall, the tasks performed in the study were shown to cause increased mental workloads for motorists. This resulted in the following:

  • Missed visual cues
  • Compromised brain function
  • Narrowed field of vision
  • Slowed reaction time

As such, going hands-free may not be enough to prevent people from being involved in distracted driving accidents. Therefore, avoiding all types of distractions while operating a vehicle is the best way for motorists to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of those with whom they are sharing the road.

Working with an attorney

Due to collisions involving distracted drivers, people in Tennessee may suffer serious injuries, which require extensive medical treatment and care. This may result in undue medical expenses, as well as impact their ability to work and provide for their families. As such, those who have experienced situations such as this may benefit from seeking legal counsel. An attorney may help them to understand whether distractions played a part in causing their accident, as well as their options for pursuing compensation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, injury