A new study sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is helping researchers, law makers, and drivers to pinpoint exactly why distracted driving is so dangerous. In controlled tests, drivers were fitted with black caps with electrodes and wires. The caps measured how the drivers’ brains reacted to rapid and increasing stimuli on the road.
What the researchers found was “inattention blindness,” which means that the drivers might literally see the object but their brains do not ever register it. They found that the more complicated the task, such as setting a GPS route, the more the brain was distracted. The most surprising find was that voice-recognition systems, intended to enhance driver safety, caused the highest level of distraction.
Auto manufacturers say that they struggle to comply with safety requirements, while satisfying the drivers’ desire for internet access, GPS, speech to text communications, and movie screens. Some of the safety limitations that they struggle with in particular are the GPS systems that do not allow drivers to make changes while they are driving. The auto makers note that when this occurs the drivers will simply dig around in their purses or pockets, causing even more distraction to find the smartphone that will do the job without restrictions.
The researchers noted that there was a time when scientists were trying to beat Americans over the head with data showing that cigarette smoking caused cancer, but the habit was so popular that it took decades for the message to really sink it. With ever improving technologies and opportunities to enhance safety, this is the time that auto makers and law makers need to come together to have a productive discussion on how to make technology in cars less distracting and more helpful. If we make it easier for drivers to be safer, it hopefully won’t take drivers decades to form safer habits.