Of the distractions today’s motorists face, cognitive distractions are among the most dangerous, and may increase drivers’ risk for serious crashes.

Most people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area understand the dangers posed by negligent behaviors, such as drinking and driving or speeding. However, the risks associated with distracted driving, including talking and texting while driving, are often overlooked. In fact, a 2011 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pointed out that there are approximately 600,000 people using hand-held cellphones while driving at any given daylight moment across the country. As a result of such distractions, drivers may not see hazards or changes in driving conditions, which commonly leads to serious collisions.

Common distractions for today's drivers

In general, all behaviors, which compete for motorists' attentions may be considered distractions. This may include numerous activities, such as eating or drinking, talking on the phone or to a passenger, text messaging or even adjusting the radio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that there are three primary types of distractions for today's drivers - cognitive, manual and visual.

Cognitive distractions are those tasks that take people's attention off of the task of driving. A manual distraction is any activity that takes a motorist's hands off of the steering wheel. Visual distractions are behaviors, which take drivers' eyes off of the road. Of these main types of distractions, the least is known about cognitive distractions.

Analyzing the effects of cognitive distractions on drivers

Researchers for the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to understand how motorists are impacted by cognitive distractions. For the study, researchers established a scale to measure these types of distractions. This was achieved by observing participants as they drove sa ns any distractions, for the low end. The high end of the scale was determined by monitoring participants as they drove while performing complex verbal and mathematical problems.

For the study, the participants were asked by researchers to perform various tasks in an instrumented vehicle, in a driving simulator and in a lab. In addition to the activities used to establish the low and high end of the scale, researchers also had the participants perform a number of other tasks. These included talking on a hands-free cellphone, talking on a hand-held cellphone, listening to an audiobook and the radio, and utilizing talk-to-text technologies.

Study shows cognitive distractions pose a risk for motorists

Based on the study's findings, drivers may be distracted, even if their hands are on the wheel and their eyes are on the road. In fact, using cellphone options that are hands-free were found to be some of the most distracting tasks for the study's participants. Overall, the study showed that distractions increase motorists' mental workloads. As a result, drivers experienced the following:

  • Lagging reaction times
  • Missed visual cues
  • Narrowed vision fields
  • Decreased brain function

Therefore, using hands-free devices alone may not be enough to prevent distracted driver collisions. Rather, motorists should avoid distractions of all types while operating motor vehicles in order to ensure their safety, and the safety of others on the road.

Consult with an attorney

As a result of distraction-related crashes, people in Texas, and elsewhere may be seriously injured. Consequently, they may require medical treatment and time off of work to recover, which often results in medical expenses and lost wages. The negligent motorists who cause such collisions, however, may be held responsible for these types of damages. Thus, it may benefit people who have been injured in such accidents to seek legal guidance. An attorney may help them to understand their rights for obtaining financial compensation.