Distractions While Driving

As we all know, talking on the cell phone while driving is very risky, causing many more distracted driving accidents a year. When dividing our attention we experience interference in the tasks. Specificity of Resources says that the more different the tasks being done, such as knitting and listening to a lecture, should be easily done for the tasks do not require the same resources. All language-based resources would be used for the lecture, but are not needed for the knitting. However, task similarity is not the only thing that matters for divided attention. If specificity is the only thing that contributes to attention, then driving while talking on the cell phone should not matter for they use different resources, language skills for communicating, and hand-eye coordination for driving. However, it is obvious that driving while on the phone does effect capability. General Resources and Executive Control can help explain why this is. This explains attention like a “bank,” that we only have a certain amount of resource availability, and it is difficult to divide across tasks regardless of how different the tasks are.

This study looks at driving and many distraction s while doing so such as talking on the cell phone, interacting with passengers, applying make-up, tail-gating, etc. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researchers used results from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study. “The naturalistic driving study involves equipping volunteer participants’ vehicles with unobtrusive instrumentation – cameras, sensors, and radars – that continuously collects real-world driver performance and behavior.” They had over 3500 participants who participated between one and two years each. They found that activities that require the drivers to take their eyes off the road, such as reading or writing, reaching for an object, or using a handheld phone, increase crash risk. The researchers collected more than 1600 verified crash events ranging in severity from low, like curb strikes, to severe, including police reported crashes. In the high severity crashes involving injury or property damage, nearly 90% of the drivers were fatigued, had impairments, or were distracted. The purpose of the study was to increase awareness amongst policymakers, educators, law enforcement, and vehicle designers.

There are a few problems with this study though. The fact that they were volunteers means that the participants likely were better drivers than the general public. Since the study was not a direct experiment, but more of an observational study, causation cannot be claimed. It can be inferred however, since there are many studies that show distractions while driving increase risks. I would also like to know where they did the study, whether it was across different states, or all in the same general area. In order to use the statistics found for the general population, the participants should be from different generations and from different areas. The study says that the factors analyzed were compared to episodes of model driving, or episodes in which the drivers were verified to be alert, attentive, and sober,” but does not say how this was verified.

2 thoughts on “Distractions While Driving

  1. rachaelwiczalkowski

    I found your post super interesting! I often find myself fiddling with the radio or talking on the phone while driving, so it was scary and fascinating to learn the effects that that can have on your ability to focus while driving. The fact that different activities should be easier to do at once is confusing for me. I understand that two activities requiring different parts of the brains function makes sense, but actually trying to apply this idea is difficult. The study you cited in your post is very fascinating. The researcher’s choice to use cameras, sensors, and radar to collect real world data was a good idea, considering people who knew there was this recording technology in the car would act differently. I can see where there would be a problem with the research group, like you stated that the group was volunteers which meant they had some sort of idea that research was being done on their driving. The effect of this was probably slim though. This type of research on distracted driving is important with more new technology coming out to create more distractions. This type of research also allows car companies to make adjustments to their cars to help make the effects of distraction less significant and hopefully make driving a lot safer.

  2. colleenphope

    I found your article very interesting. It is well known that being distracted while you are driving can cause accidents, but you brought up a good point about the specificity of resources. According to that theory we shouldn’t have any problems multi-tasking while driving. It’s interesting that you found we can only sufficiently use so many resources no matter how different the tasks are. I agree that it would be interesting to learn a lot more about who did the study and perhaps it should be reconstructed with a different group of people. Overall, I really enjoyed your post!

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