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Have you ever written or read text messages or emails while driving a car? In many but not all states in the United States it is illegal now, and in a number of other countries it is illegal as well. When surveyed, most people in the US said they wanted a ban on it.

But what about other distractions in the real world while we are driving or walking or otherwise moving about? What are the human factors involved? Why can we perform some tasks concurrently and not others? Where do we draw the line?

Frank Drews and his colleagues at the University of Utah conducted a study to identify the impact of text messaging on simulated driving performance. They noted that over the past decade, a number of studies reported the negative impact of talking on a cell phone while driving.

However, they were interested in better understanding the specific impact of text messaging. They used a high-fidelity driving simulator, so they could better control the experimental conditions and, of course, not risk anyone’s life!

reason for using internet

Findings of the study

They observed 40 participants in single-task (driving) and dual-task (driving and text messaging) situations.

They found that participants in the dual-task condition responded more slowly to brake lights on the car in front of them, and showed impairments in forward control (e.g., more erratic following of a car in front) and lateral control (e.g., drifting across lanes) compared with a driving-only condition.

Further, text-messaging drivers were involved in more crashes than drivers not engaged in text messaging.

They concluded that text messaging while driving has a negative impact on simulated driving performance, and the negative impact exceeded that of conversing on a cell phone while driving. But why?

Texting and driving

Certainly text messaging not only requires attention, but it also requires additional focusing on the phone itself when composing or reading messages, i.e., potentially more time with eyes off the road.

And it seems that drivers attempt to divide attention between phone conversations and driving, adjusting the mental processing priority of the two activities depending on external task demands.

By contrast, text messaging appears to be more consistent with a switching model of attention, in which attention is allocated in large part EITHER to driving OR to text messaging. When drivers have switched their attention to the text messaging task, their reaction times to braking events are substantially higher, reflecting a substantial cost of task switching.

reason for using internet

Texting and driving

So what about using that smart phone in another mode — for talking? Is that safe?

Even with a hands-free device, most of the impairment comes from talking on the phone and not holding it. David Strayer and colleagues at the University of Utah found that talking on a handheld OR hands-free cell phone impairs driving ability equally. Some reviewers of this research argue that to reduce accidents, cell phone use needs to be banned completely during driving.


Conclusion

  • These empirical results increase our understanding of driver distraction and have implications for safety and design.

    So meanwhile back in the kitchen, I can sing and cook as I successfully divide attention between the lyrics of a song and the ingredients in a recipe in a relatively safe environment. However, when I slide in behind the wheel of my car, I need to pay attention to the task of driving!

References

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texting_while_driving

    Drews, F.A., Yazdani, H., Godfrey, C. N., Cooper, J. M., Strayer, D. L. (2009). Text messaging during simulated driving. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 51: 762. http://hfs.sagepub.com/content/51/5/762

    http://www.talkingbrains.org/2008/07/driving-while-using-hands-free-cell.html

    Photo from: http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2010/0618/Texting-while-driving-Adults-are-just-as-bad-as-teens-study-finds

    Figure from: David L. Strayer, Jason M. Watson, and Frank A. Drews, Cognitive Distraction While Multitasking in the Automobile. In Brian Ross, editor: The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Vol. 54, Burlington: Academic Press, 2011, pp. 29-58.

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

Leave a comment here

Reader comments

V.J. Hixson

I have no argument with the premise that texting while driving creates some dangers as does talking on the cell phone. I wonder how this compares with the dangers of talking with passengers in the car, or dealing with children who are misbehaving in the back seat while driving.... Is driving a safe activity? Perhaps the best option the robot driver. But I hate the idea of giving up the feeling of control.

Amit Kulshreshtha

This is a very systematic explanation of such a big issue on roads. Simulated driving while texting or calling by offenders can be a nice lesson for them to understand that they don't work the way they think they can work.

Ravi Singh

This is eye opening! This fascinating research is a lesson to me to take these risks more seriously and have less blind confidence in my ability to multi-task while driving. Thanks for publishing this study.

S. David Leonard

A significant factor in behavior of humans is that of learning to respond to stimuli. Unfortunately, in many cases there is no association with the environmental conditions. This factor must be included in procedures that will check the use of texting in inappropriate circumstances.

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