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Cognitive Distraction Measured in New Study

Car manufacturers are constantly developing new features to entice buyers in King County and right now, in-vehicle devices such as voice-to-text technology and hands-free phone calling are extremely popular. Auto makers market these devices as safe but a new study disputes that claim, showing that the risks of becoming involved in a car accident are just as high as using hand-held cell phones.

Increased Distractions

According to, a website sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are several distractions that can take a person's attention away from the task of driving. Among these distractions, texting is considered the most dangerous because it encourages the driver to take their hand off of the steering wheel, their eye off of the road ahead and their mind off of driving. However, there are other forms of distraction such as talking to other people, watching a video, using a map, eating and playing with the car stereo.

Here in Washington, laws have been passed, banning the use of hand-held cell phones and texting while behind the wheel of a car. According to the 2011 crash data from the Washington State Department of Transportation, there were over 2,100 serious injuries reported and 43,000 minor injuries reported. It is unknown how many of those were caused by distracted driving, but it is likely that many people failed to admit that they were distracted by something before the accident occurred.

Measuring Cognitive Distraction

A new study released by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety is considered one of the most comprehensive studies done to date on cognitive distraction by USA Today. The study used 150 participants to measure cognitive distraction under different situations and environments. Participants were tested in a lab, a driving simulator and in an instrumented vehicle on regular streets. Cameras, sensors and other equipment were used to capture brain waves and other data.

Participants were asked to engage in different activities such as talking on a cell phone, using a voice-to-text technology, listening to an audio book and talking to a passenger. The study showed that the more complex the task was, the higher the cognitive distraction was. As such, the study produced the following findings:

  • People are slower to hit the brakes.
  • Drivers visually scan their driving environment less frequently.
  • Drivers miss important cues that could alert them to a potential danger.
  • There was suppressed brain activity with more complicated tasks.
  • Reaction times to situations were slower.
  • Decrease in peripheral detection.

In addition, the study also showed that hands-free devices were just as distracting to drivers as hand-held cell phones but the auto and technology industries are disputing the findings, calling the study flawed.

When someone is injured in a car accident because of a distracted driver, he or she should talk with an experienced attorney about seeking appropriate compensation to cover their expenses.