Study: Cognitive distractions pose a serious risk for Tennessee drivers

Many drivers overlook the dangers of cognitive distractions, but one study found these activities, including using hands-free devices, pose a serious risk.

Although many people understand the dangers of drinking and driving and speeding, many overlook the hazards associated with distracted driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving accidents result in over 1,150 injuries and more than nine deaths across the U.S. each day. Some assume they are being safe by using hands-free devices or in-car infotainment systems. However, cognitive distractions pose a significant risk for Tennessee drivers, their passengers and others, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

What are cognitive distractions?

Cognitive, or mental, distractions are those activities that take drivers' attention off their primary task of driving. These includes texting, talking on cellphones or reading emails, among other tasks. When people's attentions are diverted, they may not spot hazards that appear on the roadways or recognize changes in driving conditions. Consequently, they may be involved in auto accidents.

Examining the effects of cognitive distractions

Researchers from the University of Utah conducted a study with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in order to measure the effects of cognitive distractions on drivers. To accomplish this, they asked participants in the study to perform eight different activities in a lab, a driving simulator and an instrumented vehicle. This included listening to an audiobook, talking with a passenger, having a conversation on a handheld cellphone and on a hands-free device, and using speech-to-text technologies. In order to establish a scale by which to measure these distractions, the researchers asked the study's participants to drive with no distractions and to drive while performing a complex math and verbal problems.

Cognitive distractions cause driver impairments

Based on the study's findings, cognitive distractions pose a significant risk to drivers. As a result of these types of activities, motorists may experience impairments including the following:

• Slowed reaction times

• Missed visual cues

• Decreased visual scanning ability

• Lessened activity in the areas of the brain that are necessary to drive safely

The study found there was some level of impairment associated with all of the cognitive distractions that were evaluated. Of these, the use of talk-to-text technologies were found to be the most distracting. Using handheld and hands-free cellphone devices also caused substantial distractions and impairments for motorists. Distracted drivers may be at an increased risk for causing motor vehicle collisions, which may result in serious injuries or death for those involved.

Obtaining legal representation

When people in Tennessee are involved in distraction-related collisions, they may suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical treatments. For some, this leads to undue medical expenses and lost income. In some situations, however, the distracted drivers may be held responsible for these, and other resulting damages. Thus, it may be helpful for people who have been injured in distracted driving accidents to consult with an attorney. A legal representative may help them to understand their options for seeking financial compensation.