Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving1

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
Distracted Driving2
However, texting and using a cell phone are by far the most dangerous distractions.

The best way to end distracted driving is to educate all Americans about the danger it poses.  Here you will find some information about distracted driving. If you don’t already beleive distracted driving is a safety problem, please take a moment to learn more. And please share this information with others. Together, we can help save lives.


Key Facts and Statistics

  • In 2013, 3,154 people were killed and approximately 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. (distracteddriving.gov)
  • At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. (NOPUS)
  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded. (VTTI)
  • More than 90 percent of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error. (International Organization for Road Accident Prevention)
  • Drivers using cell phones have slower reaction times than drivers impaired by alcohol at a .08 blood alcohol concentration (the legal intoxication limit). (Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J. (2006). A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors, 48 (2), 381-391)
  • Driving while talking on cell phones – handheld and hands-free – increases risk of car crashes by 400%. (Redelmeier, D.,A., & Tibshirani, R. J. (1997). Association between cellular-telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions, New England Journal of Medicine, 336 (7), 453-458; McEvoy, S. P., Stevenson, M. R., McCartt, A. T., Woodward, M., Haworth, C., Palamara, P., & Cercarelli, R. Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study (2005). BMJ, 331 (7514), 428)

Distracted driving is not just statistics – it causes tremendous suffering for the people who have lost a loved one or who are living with catastrophic injuries or disabilities.


How the Brain Works – Why Distracted Driving Is So Dangerous

The brain engages in a constant process to deal with the information it receives. The brain:

  1. Selects the information it will attend to
  2. Processes the information
  3. Encodes the information (the stage that creates memory)
  4. Stores the information (in short term memory)

Distracted Driving3
Depending on the type of information, different neural pathways and different areas of the brain are engaged. Therefore, the brain must communicate across its pathways. In addition, the brain must go through two more cognitive functions before it can act on saved information. The brain must also:

  1. Retrieve stored information
  2. Execute or act on the information

Everything a person sees, hears, feels, tastes or thinks – all sensory information – must be committed to short-term memory (“encoded”) before it can be acted upon. Short-term memory can hold basic information for a few seconds. However, to get even very basic information into short-term memory, the brain goes through a process.

First: The Brain Must Select the Information It Will Pay Attention To

All human brains have limited capacity to receive and process information. When there is too much information, the brain must decide what information is important to recognize and what isn’t. During this stage the brain will “screen out” information as a way to deal with distraction overload. For example, a person who is talking on a cell phone while driving has a brain that’s dealing with divided attention. The brain is overloaded by all the information coming in. To handle this overload, the driver’s brain will not recognize all of the information – this is called “cognitive distraction” and results in what is called “inattention blindness” – where drivers “look at” but not “see” objects. Vision is the most important sense we use for safe driving. It’s the source of the majority of information when driving. Yet, estimates indicate drivers using cell phones look at but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment. Cognitive distraction contributes to a withdrawal of attention from the visual scene, where all the information the driver sees is not processed. When this happens, drivers are not aware of the filtered information and cannot act on it. Distracted drivers experience inattention blindness. They are looking out the windshield, but do not process everything in the roadway environment necessary to effectively monitor their surroundings, seek and identify potential hazards, and to respond to unexpected situations. Their field of view narrows. They tend to miss exits, and go through red lights or stop signs. They tend to cause crashes that hurt and kill people. And their excuse for causing the crash is almost always the same – “I didn’t see them; they came out of nowhere.”

Distracted Driving4
To explore how cell phone use can affect driver visual scanning, Transport Canada’s Ergonomics Division tracked the eye movements of drivers using hands-free phones and again when these drivers were not on the phone. In addition to looking less at the periphery, drivers using hands-free phones reduced their visual monitoring of instruments and mirrors, and some drivers entirely abandoned those tasks. At intersections, these drivers made fewer glances to traffic lights and to traffic on the right. Some drivers did not even look at traffic signals at all.

Second: Once the Brain Selects the Information It Will Pay Attention to, It Then Must Process That Information.

Slower Response Time and Reaction Time – Response time includes both reaction time and movement time. Reaction time involves attentional resources and information processing, while movement time is a function of muscle activation. Cell phone use has been documented to affect reaction time. Due to the “attention switching” costs discussed below, it makes sense that driver reactions may be slower when using cell phones. For every information input, the brain must make many decisions: whether to act on information processed, how to act, execute the action and stop the action. While this process may take only a fraction of a second, all of these steps do take time. When driving, fractions of seconds can be the difference between a crash and no crash, injury or no injury, life or death. Numerous studies show delayed response and reaction times when drivers are talking on hands-free and handheld cell phones. A driver’s response to sudden hazards, such as another driver’s behavior, weather conditions, work zones, animals or objects in the roadway, often is the critical factor between a crash and a near crash. When the brain is experiencing an increased workload, information processing slows and a driver is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards in time to avoid a crash.

Distracted Driving5

The Myth of “Multi-Tasking”

Many people believe they are great at “multi-tasking.” They are constantly doing several things at once – driving down the road while simultaneously talking on their phone while putting on their make-up. People often think they are effectively accomplishing multiple tasks at the same time. And yes, they may complete a phone conversation while they drive and arrive at their destination without incident, their make-up flawless. However, because we know how the human brain works we know for a fact that multi-tasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. While brains can juggle tasks very rapidly, which leads us to falsely believe that we are doing two tasks at the same time, in reality the brain is switching attention between tasks – performing only one task at a time. This is called “attention switching.”

We can safely walk while chewing gum because one of those tasks – chewing gum – is not a cognitively demanding task. When chewing gum and walking, people still are able to visually scan the environment for potential hazards. However, people do not perform as well when trying to perform two attention-demanding tasks at the same time. When people attempt to perform two cognitively complex tasks such as driving and talking on a phone, the brain is “attention switching.” As a result people develop “inattention blindness” – important information falls out of view and is not processed by the brain. For example, drivers may not see a red light. Because this is a process people are not aware of, it’s virtually impossible for people to realize they are mentally taking on too much.

Distracted Driving6
Brain researchers have identified “reaction-time switching costs, which is a measurable time when the brain is switching its attention and focus from one task to another. While the cost of switching could be a few tenths of a second per switch, when the brain switches repeatedly between tasks these costs add up. Even small amounts of time spent switching can lead to significant risks from delayed reaction and braking time. For example, if you are driving a car 40 mph you are travelling 58.7 feet per second; after reaction and braking time are accounted for you will have travelled 164 feet before stopping – this equals almost 11 car lengths (an average car length is approximately 15 feet). A fraction of- a-second delay would make the car travel several additional car lengths. When a driver needs to react immediately, there is no margin for error.

Distracted Driving7
In addition, brains may face a “bottleneck” in which different regions of the brain must pull from a shared and limited resource for seemingly unrelated tasks, constraining the mental resources available for the tasks. Research has identified that even when different cognitive tasks draw on two different regions of the brain, we still can have performance problems when trying to do dual tasks at the same time. This may help explain why talking on cell phones could affect what a driver sees: two usually unrelated activities become interrelated when a person is behind the wheel. These tasks compete for our brain’s information processing resources. There are limits to our mental workload. The workload of information processing can bring risks when unexpected driving hazards arise. Under most driving conditions, drivers are performing well-practiced, automatic driving tasks. For example, without thinking about it much, drivers slow down when they see yellow or red lights, and activate turn signals when intending to make a turn or lane change. These are automatic tasks for experienced drivers. Staying within a lane, noting the speed limit and navigation signs, and checking rear- and side-view mirrors also are automatic tasks for most experienced drivers. People can do these driving tasks safely with an average cognitive workload. During the vast majority of road trips, nothing bad happens, as it should be. But that also can lead people to feel a false sense of security or competency when driving. Drivers may believe they can safely multitask; however, a safe driver must always be prepared to respond to the unexpected.

Distracted Driving8

Hands-Free Devices Do Not Eliminate Cognitive Distraction

Hands-free devices (such as Bluetooth) are often seen as a safe way to use the telephone while driving because they help eliminate two obvious risks – visual (looking away from the road while dialing) and manual (removing your hands from the steering wheel). However, as discussed above, a third type of distraction occurs when using cell phones while driving – cognitive (taking your mind off the road).

Most people can recognize when they are visually or mechanically distracted and seek to disengage from these activities as quickly as possible. However, people typically do not realize when they are cognitively distracted, such as taking part in a phone conversation. This likely explains why researchers have not been able to find a safety benefit to hands-free phone conversations. The National Safety Council has compiled more than 30 research studies and reports by scientists around the world that used a variety of research methods, to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones. All of these studies show hands-free phones offer no safety benefit when driving. The cognitive distraction from paying attention to conversation – from listening and responding to a disembodied voice – occurs on both handheld and hands-free phones and contributes to extremely dangerous driving impairments.

Hands-free devices offer no safety benefit when driving because hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.

Why does having our own trial courtroom make us unique?

© 2018 by: The Franklin Law Firm, LLP. All rights reserved.    |    Website Maintenance & Management by EnsureWP