As technology developers and car manufacturers continue to rocket toward fully autonomous vehicles in the near future, present-day cars and trucks come equipped with more and more driver safety features. Many of these features are specifically designed to keep a driver’s attention focused squarely on the road and the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, these safety and convenience features might increase the likelihood of cognitive distractions while, at the same time, eliminating manual or visual ones.
Generally, driving distractions are categorized in three ways:
- Manual: Tasks that require the removal of the hands from the steering wheel.
- Visual: Tasks that require eyesight to complete.
- Cognitive: Tasks that pull focus or attention from the road.
While a car manufacturer might feel it is safer to have a motion-activated volume control, the driver is still required to remove his or her hand from the steering wheel to make the adjustment. In reality, the action is no safer than manually turning the volume control knob.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety highlights a recent study by researchers at the University of Utah that examined the reduction in mental acuity suffered by drivers while performing voice-activated tasks. The researchers measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess the participant drivers’ mental workload when they attempted to complete several tasks at once.
The drivers were asked to perform several common tasks while behind the wheel. Based on the neurological measures, tasks were assigned various levels of mental distraction:
- Level 1: Minimal risk. These tasks include passive activities such as listening to the audio system.
- Level 2: Moderate risk. These tasks include participating in a cell phone conversation, both handheld and hands-free.
- Level 3: Extensive risk. These tasks include listening to and responding to voice-activated email features.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety urges manufacturers and designers to consider three suggestions:
- Limit the use of voice-activated technology to only driving-related activities. These could include climate control and windshield wipers.
- Disable voice-messaging functionality while the vehicle is in motion.
- Educating drivers on the risks and responsible use of these passive or voice-activated systems rather than only highlighting convenience.
Accidents caused by distracted drivers can lead to serious injuries including brain trauma, broken bones, spinal cord damage and amputation. If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a collision caused by a distracted driver, do not hesitate to seek legal guidance.