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Driven to distraction

Driven to distraction
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The latest in hand-free technology might make it physically easier to text, talk or operate Facebook whilst at the wheel, but new research outlines the marked dangers in doing so.

Studies show that as mental workload and distractions increase, our reactions time slows, our brain function is compromised, and we can miss even the most basic visual cues.

Researchers at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to drivers’ mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once.

As Cognitive Distraction Expert, David Strayer, explains: “We used a number of different measures. Some were required EEG (Electroencephalography) or brain-based measures. We used a new reaction-detection-time task to be able to account for how well someone could detect something when they are driving.”

Their findings build on other, recent, work which suggests younger people’s reactions become as slow as those of pensioners if they are talking on a hands-free set while driving. Further analysis of the drivers’ conversations whilst driving revealed that they used more simple speech, with fewer syllables, when the road was more demanding.

For Utah researcher Dr. Joel Cooper, it is vital that the public heed the implications of these findings: “When your mind gets busy you no longer begin to look for the hidden threat behind the bus, you no longer begin to look for people at crosswalks. This could be, and has been, fatal.”

As a result of the study, American Automobile Association has urged the automotive and electronics industries to limit the production of voice-activated technology to core-driving-related activities, like windshield wipers or cruise control.