“Sixth” Sense for Avoiding Accidents Fails when Drivers are Texting

Posted on behalf of Arnold Law Firm on May 27, 2016 in Auto Accidents

texting and driving cognitive skillsTexting while driving affects a driver's visual, cognitive and manual abilities. A new study now suggests that a driver's "sixth sense," which can aid in adapting to difficult situations, is ineffective when a driver texts while behind the wheel.

If you have been hurt in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, contact a knowledgeable Sacramento auto accident attorney at the Arnold Law Firm. We can help you determine your legal options and how to proceed if you are eligible to file claim.

The brain keeps part of a driver's attention on the road even while distracted by other stressors, like emotions or complex questions. However, this automatic coping mechanism fails when a driver begins to text.

Researchers had 59 subjects complete driving tests in a simulator. Participants were allowed to become familiar with the simulator before researchers began asking complex and emotionally distressing questions. In another simulation, drivers were asked to send text messages. A final simulator had drivers react to mixed stressors.

Researchers measured lane departures, as well as perspiration levels captured by sensors. In all simulations tested, stress impacted steering accuracy, but lane deviations became unsafe only when the drivers were texting. They noted that when drivers were under duress from mentally or emotionally challenging questions, the drivers still had their eyes forward and were steering somewhat straight.

Corrections to compensate for mental and emotional distractions are largely due to a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which directs "fight or flight" energy to the muscles needed to handle the steering wheel. For the ACC perform these corrections, it must get support from the driver's hand-eye coordination. When the hand-eye coordination loop breaks, as it does when a driver has one hand on their phone, the ACC fails to perform corrective actions.

Texting distracts a driver visually, cognitively and manually, using a broad array of mental resources required for driving a vehicle -- making it a particularly dangerous distraction. Although the study focuses on the dangers of texting and driving, researchers still recommend refraining from driving when angry, upset or otherwise distracted.

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