While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued driver distraction guidelines to address visual and manual sources of distraction, there are currently no standards that apply exclusively to cognitive distraction. In June, research was published suggesting that the move to voice-based interactions in vehicles may have the unintended consequence of adversely affecting traffic safety.

The goal of the study, sponsored by the American Automobile Association (AAA), was to establish a standardized framework for measuring and understanding cognitive distraction in the vehicle. Thirty-two participants, ranging in age from 18-33 were involved in the study which consisted of three experiments.

The first experiment served as a control in which participants performed eight tasks without the concurrent operation of a motor vehicle. In the second experiment, participants performed the same eight tasks while operating a high-fidelity driving simulator. In the third experiment, participants performed the eight tasks while driving an instrumented vehicle in a residential area of a city.

In each experiment, the tasks involved;

  • A baseline single-task condition (i.e., no concurrent secondary task)
  • Concurrent listening to the radio
  • Concurrent listening to a book on tape
  • Concurrent conversation with a passenger seated next to the participant
  • Concurrent conversation on a hand-held cell phone
  • Concurrent conversation on a hands-free cell phone
  • Concurrent interaction with a speech-to-text interfaced e-mail system
  • Concurrent performance with an auditory version of the Operation Span (OSPAN) task

With the exception of the hand-held cell phone condition, each task allowed the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel, so any impairment to driving must be a result of cognitive sources associated with distraction from the task of operating the vehicle.

The data was then used to develop a rating system for cognitive distraction where non-distracted single-task driving represented the low end (Category 1), and the OSPAN task represented the high-end (Category 5) of the scale. In-vehicle activities such as listening to the radio (1.21) or an audio book (1.75) were associated with a small increase in cognitive distraction, the conversation activities of talking to a passenger in the vehicle (2.33) or chatting with a friend on a hand-held (2.45) or hands-free cell phone (2.27) were associated with a moderate increase in cognitive distraction, and the speech-to-text condition (3.06) had a large cognitive distraction rating. These findings can be used to help create scientifically-based policies on driver distractions, particularly as they relate to cognitive distraction resulting from the diversion of attention to other concurrent activities in the vehicle.

Increasingly, automobile manufacturers and third-party providers are offering consumers the ability to utilize voice commands for controlling everything from functions of the vehicle to making dinner reservations. The information gathered from this study show that such voice-based interaction, in some instances, caused driving impairments similar to those associated with drunk driving. The lesson to be learned is that hands-free does not necessarily equal risk-free.

Seattle Car Accident Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

At Phillips Law Firm, our Seattle car accident injury attorneys know that distracted driving is a major cause of automobile accidents in the State of Washington. If you or someone you love is injured in an accident in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma, or throughout the State of Washington, our experienced Seattle injury lawyers can help. Call us at the Phillips Law Firm today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at 1-800-708-6000 today.