As a personal injury attorney, my practice brings me in touch with people who have been victims of distracted driving here in Bellingham, Skagit or Whatcom County. Accidents where distracted driving was a factor are reaching epidemic proportions, even as lawmakers try to crack down on the usage of some of the biggest distractors – cell phones. More and more research has been coming out about how our brains handle various distractions while driving, some of which I found important to share. I hope it helps drivers in our community of Bellingham think about distracted driving, and change behavior. It’s too dangerous to drive without being focused only on driving, and all accidents that happen because of driver error due to distraction are preventable.
From End Distracted Driving, an organization devoted to spreading the word about this growing problem:
Mental Workload of Common Voice-Based Vehicle Interactions across Six Different Vehicle Systems“, Strayer, et al/ AAAFoundation for Traffic Safety, 2014 – Not surprisingly, the degree of accuracy in vehicles’ voice-activated systems has a large bearing on how distracting it is to use those features. This study shows which vehicles create a dangerously high level of distraction, even though they are intended to decrease it. Even using a hands and eyes free device like Siri on Apple’s iPhones creates a relatively high level of mental distraction. It makes me wonder if technology is the solution to the distractions it causes!
“Understanding the distracted brain – Why driving while using hands-free cell phones is risky behavior”, NSC 2012 – This research found that there’s no increase in safety to using a hands-free device, and the very idea of multi-tasking is a myth, research I wrote about earlier in this blog. Not only does cell phone use while driving impair performance, it also weakens the ability of the brain to look for cues in the environment. Even a red light can be ignored despite staring right at it, if the brain is engaged in cognitive functions about something else. This is called “inattention blindness”.
“Voice-To-Text Apps Offer No Driving Safety Benefit; As With Manual Texting, Reaction Times Double”, Texas A & M Transportation Institute, 2013 – With all the attention on voice-to-text technologies being the antidote to distracted driving, this study found it’s just not the case. Those technologies were found to be no safer than manual texting. The study showed that all texting – manual or voice-ativated – took drivers’ eyes away from the road. They measured that this actually doubles reaction time, and when seconds count, that can be a fatal mistake. Reserachers even found that voice to text took longer than manual texting. If you’ve used this feature yourself, you know that it takes more time to correct mis-heard words and compose the message you mean to send. When doing this behind the driver’s wheel, it can be a distaster.
I have young drivers in my home, and it’s a big reason why I’m so concerned about this issue, even though the issue is related to drivers of all ages. Please encourage your friends and loved ones to put the cell phone away, and practice these safe driving tips.
Soon I’ll share more research with you about distracted driving in future blog posts.