Have you ever found yourself behind the wheel, deep in thought, reflection or worry? We suspect the answer is yes. Which begs the question, are all forms of distraction equal?
Distinctly not, according to new research by Ioannis Pavlidis from the University of Houston and Robert Wunderlich from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
In an experiment that was subsequently published in Scientific Advances, Pavlidis and Wunderlich amassed a group of 59 participants and had each participant drive a stretch of road four times (using a driving simulator). Each drive was conducted under four unique conditions:
The order of the conditions was randomized so as to ensure no other influencing factors affected the results.
In all conditions (except under normal conditions), the researchers found that the drivers engaged in “jittery handling” of the wheel. Only with texting, however, was this ‘jittery’ behavior converted into risky driving behavior.
What is different about texting specifically? Eye contact with the road. The researchers theorize that this is the result of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)–a form of ‘autopilot’ that compensates for distractions in everyday life. The ACC requires sustained hand-eye coordination to engage, which means that looking up and down at one’s phone while texting interferes with the ACC’s function.
Pavlidis describes ACC as “auto systems” for humans or as a “sixth sense.” This corrector is key for safety while engaging in many forms of distraction behind the wheel. But it is most certainly compromised when texting.
There is a reason that texting while driving was responsible for over 3,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries in 2014. The statistics of other forms of distraction pale in comparison. This study confirms what we have witnessed from the data and statistics: texting while driving is dangerous. More dangerous than any other distraction behind the wheel.
This is a key contribution from the research community to shed further light on what is happening while folks are driving and, more importantly, what activities are safe while doing so. We simply can’t have too much data or too many insights as to how humans behave behind the wheel.
We here at TrueMotion are committed to making the roads safer and believe that one of the best ways to do that is to make drivers aware of their risky behaviors. Each of us thinks we are a great driver, but when we see the data, we can see the truth about our abilities, as well as ways to improve.
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