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Cognitive Demands Increase Distracted Driving Accident Risks
According to new research, a motorist doesn’t actually have to be engaged in any kind of physical activity while driving, like talking on the cell phone or snacking, to have an increased risk of a distracted driving accident.
A person who is mentally unfocused, inattentive, and thinking of something other than driving, is at a higher risk of being involved in an accident. The research has been published in Human Factors: the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. The research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that when a driver’s mind is focused on any other topic but driving, he is likely to be at a much higher risk of an accident.
For example, a motorist who is distracted by some problem at home may be so unfocused that he could have a much higher risk of an accident. According to the researchers, a motorist’s ability to focus on his immediate driving environment differs depending on the cognitive demand of the nondriving-related activity. What that means is that when a motorist is deeply involved in thinking about some other topic other than driving while operating a vehicle, he is much less likely to be focused on the driving environment, and much more likely to be involved in an accident.
One of the good driving practices that car accident lawyers recommend is to frequently scan the environment in order to look for hazards. A good motorist relies on visual cues in order to drive safely and responsibly.
The researchers studied a total of 108 subjects who belonged to three age groups – the 20 to 29 age group, the 40 to 49 age group and the 60 to 69 age group. These subjects were driving a midsize sport-utility vehicle, and while driving, were also given several cognitive tasks to perform.
These tasks were also divided into low-demand, medium-demand and high-demand tasks. In the low-demand task, the drivers were given a series of single digit numbers and required to repeat these aloud. In the medium-demand test, the drivers were given the numbers again, and were asked to repeat the number that was one digit earlier. In the high-demand test, the drivers were asked to perform the same test, but this time they were asked to repeat the number that was 2 digits earlier.
According to the researchers, they found that motorists who were performing even the low-demand tasks were likely to have their attention taken away from the road. However, when they were performing the medium-demand and high-demand tasks, their attention was dramatically taken away from the road. This is due to a phenomenon called loss of situational awareness, in which the motorist becomes less aware of his surroundings.