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Keep your mind on the road: the dangers of cognitive distraction

In March 2018, a pickup truck driver in a rural area of Texas plowed into a bus carrying Baptist church members who were on their way home from a three-day retreat.  Thirteen bus riders were killed in the crash.   Near Houston, three teenage girls were killed when the driver of their car veered out of her lane and smashed into an 18-wheeler.  

What do these two tragedies have in common?   Drivers responsible for the crashes were distracted because they were texting.  Nearly 20 percent of all Texas crashes involve distracted driving.   In 2017 in Texas alone, 100,687 car wrecks were caused by distracted drivers, which resulted in 444 deaths and 2,889 serious injuries.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are main types of distracted driving:

  • Visual (when you take your eyes off the road)
  • Manual (when you take your hands off the steering wheel)
  • Cognitive (when you take your mind off driving)

Visual and manual distractions are easily understood, but what exactly is cognitive distraction?

Cognitive distraction has been defined as when the "attention is withdrawn from the processing of information necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle."  Cognitive distractions can occur even when drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

Levels of cognitive distraction

A research study on cognitive distraction of automobile drivers found that in-vehicle activities can result in either a low, moderate or high level of a cognitive workload, depending on the degree to which the activity takes the driver's mind away from driving and focuses it instead on the activity.  Examples of each level of cognitive distraction include:

  • Low level:  Listening to the radio or an audio-book
  • Moderate level:  Talking to passengers or to someone on either a handheld or hands-free device
  • High level:  Texting, either sending or receiving and reading a message; using a speech-to-text method of sending or receiving emails and text messages; using a handheld or hands-free device to post on social media posts, make dinner reservations, purchase movie theater tickets, etc.

New speech-to-text technology was designed to make driving safer by allowing drivers to make voice commands while leaving their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.  Researchers discovered that the speech-to-text devices result in a high level of distraction, requiring more thought and reasoning skills than initially expected.

We know how devastating it is to be injured in a car crash.  It is enormously disturbing for the victim to know the wreck was caused by a distracted driver.  At Burress Personal Injury Law, we take pride in aggressively advocating for these victims to hold distracted drivers (and their insurance companies) accountable, which in turn makes our communities safer.

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